First Run Theatre Presents the World Premiere of Deanna Strasse's New Play

By: Dec. 04, 2023

Love is a complex and confounding emotion that can be expressed in many different ways. The complete exhilaration that a new love can bring can make a person’s world come to a standstill. There are those times, in new relationships, when someone may shirk all responsibility to spend every possible moment with their latest infatuation. They arrive late at work. Regular household chores are ignored. Friends and family are put on the back burner because of complete emotional intoxication. But what happens when the love is not returned?

Unrequited love can be painful. An individual may fall deeply in love with another person who doesn’t return their emotions. Sometimes that infatuation turns into obsession. Obsessive love amplifies the emotion and the behaviors of the person who is consumed with the other. But what if the person is projecting feelings of love onto someone they've never met? A parasocial relationship exists when a person has developed a deep emotional bond and actually believes they are in love with someone who doesn't know they exist.

Leannán Sidhe, a new play by, Deanne Strasse, is the semi-auto biographical story about her personal infatuation with a man she’d never met. The play opens with Mya, sleeping on the sofa in her unkempt apartment. Perhaps unkempt is a bit of an understatement. The floor is littered with trash and dirty laundry. Empty pizza boxes and beverage cups are strewn about, the dirty walls and doors indicate it may have been many months since the apartment was cleaned, and random sticky notes are peppered all over the living area. A mysterious man has his back to the audience doing dishes at the kitchen skink. Mya is awakened from her nap by someone banging on her door. Her friend Jessica has arrived for their planned evening out to see some of their theatre friends in a local production of The Music Man. When Mya opens the door, and Jessica enters the apartment, and the mysterious man disappears into a closet. Jessica is mortified by the condition of Mya’s apartment and expresses significant concern about how Mya is living her life.

The mysterious man, identified as Vincent Thane, is a European actor that Mya has projected her feelings of love upon. The remainder of the play takes us into Mya’s head and examines her imagined relationship with a man who isn’t aware of her existence. Leannán Sidhe, is a dialogue heavy play with almost all of the conversation occurring between Mya and the imagined Vincent, booked-ended by visits from her friend Jessica. Strasse’s script effectively conveys Mya’s idolization of Vincent, however the inordinate amount of time spent on the imaginary exchanges with Vincent causes the play to become a bit sluggish. The playwright’s convention is to ensure her audience understands her obsession with Vincent, however that could have been communicated in significantly less time. The compelling parts of the story stem from Jessica’s awareness that Mya is unable to function on a daily basis. While Jessica doesn’t know the reason, her concern for her friend and her influence on Mya’s mental state is the play’s emotional core. Unfortunately, only about 15 minutes of the 100-minute script was spent on the relationship between the two women.

This world premiere production of Leannan Sidhe was presented by First Run Theatre in St. Louis. The production, directed by Sean Belt, is part of First Run’s mission to present plays from Midwestern playwrights that have never been produced. Belt, his cast, and technical crew staged a respectable production of Strasse’s script given the source material. The most effective part of Belt’s vision resulted from his collaboration with set designer Brad Slavik and props masters/set decorators Gwynneth Rausch and Denise Mandel. It was immediately apparent from the set design and decoration that this was the home of a person who had lost touch with reality and was unable to function in their daily life.

Tanya Badgley (Mya) and Matt Hanify (Vincent) worked in tandem, acting as a single character, to effectively show Mya’s obsession with her fabricated boyfriend. Badgley exuberance engaging with Vincent depicted how deeply she’d fallen in love and had convinced herself that her love was returned. Her buoyant bounce, optimistic delivery of her dialogue, and highly imaginative performance conveyed the exhilaration of a person who’s infatuated with their new lover. Hanify (Vincent) played Mya’s conscious and subconscious brain. At times he was the boyfriend who was all in and returning her love, and at other times he was her subconscious trying to convince her he wasn’t an actual part of her life. He flipped back and forth between Mya’s fantasy and reality with the ease of a light switch.

Amie Bossi’s performance and physical acting as Jessica was terrific. Bossi’s facial expressions clearly conveyed her disgust with Mya’s living conditions, but her body language and delivery of the dialogue illustrated her character’s compassion and empathy for what Mya was going through. It was on the latter visit from Jessica that Bossi became the cathartic force to help her friend understand that she needed to mourn the parasocial relationship and move on.

Overall, the directorial effort and performances created a good production of a script that requires additional edits and work. Leannán Sidhe is a brave vision of the author’s obsession and the toll it took on her life. First Run Theatre’s selection of Deanne Strasse’s script boldly shines a light on the struggles that arise from parasocial relationships. Leannan Sidhe closes today, December 3rd following the 2:00 PM matinee performance.