Sonoma actress shines in Santa Rosa production of ‘Emotional Creatures’
“I was not at all familiar with ‘Emotional Creature,’ the play,” admits Siobahn O’Reilly of Sonoma, of Eve Ensler’s teen-oriented follow-up to the worldwide sensation “The Vagina Monologues.” “But I’m a little new to theater,” she laughs, “so that’s not much of a stretch, actually.”
O’Reilly grew up in Sonoma, the daughter of Patricia O’Reilly, artistic director of the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance, so she knows her way around a dance floor, where her ballet talents have been on display much of her life. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when she joined some friends as a stagehand for Narrow Way Stage Company’s “Alice: The Rebellion of Wonderland,” at the Community Center, that O’Reilly got her first taste of theatrical experience.
“I was hooked,” she says. Now a student at the Santa Rosa Junior College, O’Reilly has been gradually stepping out from backstage and into the spotlight, and when she saw that the school was planning to present “Emotional Creature,” Ensler’s remarkable all-female theatrical song-dance-and-drama tribute to the lives of teenage girls around the world, she decided to audition.
“I’d heard of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ of course,” she says. “I knew it was important in the feminist movement. I was familiar with Eve Ensler as an important voice for women. But I’d never actually read her work, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
When she finally read the play, she was extremely moved.
“I would say that this whole play is about the struggles and low points and challenges of girls around the world face,” she says, “but it’s also about the joys and complexities and triumphs girls and women experience. It connects to the universality of everyone, embracing feminine power, and everything else there is about being a young woman.”
As part of the multi-audition process - which included singing and choreography elements - O’Reilly was asked to “cold read” some of the monologues, all based on actual interviews Ensler conducted with young women from America, Africa, Bulgaria and elsewhere. Eventually, she was offered a place in the cast of eight young women, playing two characters, one from America and one from Bulgaria. Then, at certain moments in the show, she joins the other cast members for deeply resonant, high-spirited songs, and even a bit of dancing.
“The dancing is the easy part, though I’ve mostly done ballet, and this is hip hop,” she says. “The acting, that’s been tricky, especially because my two characters are so completely different.”
The American character describes her experiences attempting to be accepted by the “cool kids” on campus, while her Bulgarian character tells a much more shocking true story, involving abduction and sexual slavery.
“It’s interesting to play two characters with such different experiences,” O’Reilly says. “Fortunately, I have quite a bit of backstage time between those two characters. I don’t have to go from one to the other. With Bulgarian Girl, she has been through hell. She’s still in hell, actually, and there’s no guarantee she’s getting out anytime soon. The first time I read that monologue was during auditions. I read through it once, to familiarize myself with it, then I did once more for Wendy Wisely, the director, and after that I just needed a hug, really bad.”
Bringing that girl to life and telling her story has been incredible, O’Reilly says. But she feels the same way about the American girl, whose struggles with peer pressure and high school ostracism might seem mild compared to the nightmares lived through by some of the other girls in the show.
But O’Reilly believes both girls’ pains and triumphs should be judged individually.
“In the big scheme of things,” she says, “struggling to fit in at high school is not that big of a problem, compared to other people’s problems.
However, social rejection is just as visceral as physical pain, and there are scientific studies to back that up. The way that the American girl is written off, by some, as unimportant or shallow is linked, in many ways, to how emotional pain is too often downplayed, and in turn how women’s feelings are much too often just not taken seriously.”
It’s clear that, for O’Reilly, the experience of creating “Emotional Creature” alongside her fellow cast members – Abby Volz, Gloria Lo, Shawna Jackson, Skylaer Palacios, Brooke Maytorena and Rachael Anderson – has been more than just putting on a show. According to O’Reilly, it’s given her things to think about that she’s never been asked to face before.
“I’ve learned that there can be entire worlds inside the tiniest detail,” she says. “There can be a million meanings hidden in a word, and this subtext is something young women are, necessarily, keenly aware. Showing the importance and intensity of the small things in life – particularly in the lives of women – is a big part of this show.”
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