Humanity at center of ‘Independence’


Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 11.48.03 AMLA GRANDE — On the surface, “Independence” is a production about a family’s extreme dysfunction. But for director Cassandra Johnson, it’s relatable on a deeper level.

“The human brain is so complex, we can feel many layers of emotions all at once,” Johnson said. “When (a character in the play hits her sister), I was worried about the actors but was also amazed and ecstatic and scared all in that moment.”

Johnson, who is directing the play as her senior production at Eastern Oregon University, said she sees her own journey in this story.

“My own family issues and financial issues and mental health are all there,” she said.

The show, set in Independence, Iowa, is very much about the struggle to achieve — or stave off — independence.

It follows the strained relationships of Evelyn and her three daughters. Kess, the eldest daughter, has been pursuing her career in another state. She returns home at the request of middle daughter Jo, who was recently injured by their mother. Sherry, the “tell-it-like-it-is” teen daughter longs to get out of the negative Briggs household.

The character of Evelyn (played by Dominique Randle) is established as manipulative before she even appears on stage.

“My character is definitely disruptive,” Randle said. “Every time someone starts to pull away, I bring them back.”

Nearly every comment or action made by Evelyn undercuts one or more of her daughters. One example occurs just as Jo starts to shed her sense of responsibility to her mother. Evelyn tells her she’s the only good thing she’s gotten out of the family, well aware Sherry and Kess are in the room to hear the blatant jab.

“That’s worked up until this point in my life,” Randle said of her character. “I’m starting to feel I have no more control.”

Kess (played by Megan Garoutte) starts out independent but struggles to maintain that during her brief visit home.

“She got out,” Garoutte said of Kess. “She has a fulfilling job, she finds somebody she loves, and her mother does not like that at all.”

Perhaps because of her current independence, Kess believes she is qualified to fix her family’s issues.

“She tries to come in and fix things. She’s a fixer,” Garoutte said. “Really, (she has) no idea what’s going on.”

Jo, on the other hand, is actively working toward independence for presumably the first time in her life. The middle daughter (played by Danielle DeVall) is constantly manipulated by Evelyn and by the father of her unborn baby. She’s made to feel like the root of all problems.

“She doesn’t add to the fighting, but she’s the subject of every conflict,” DeVall said. “I’m not causing problems, I am the problem.”

Still, Jo tries to put everyone else’s happiness first. As the play continues, she realizes that’s not what she wants anymore.

“Jo grows the most,” DeVall said. “She gains the most by the end, but it’s an uphill battle.”

Christia Cole said her character, Sherry, has her sights set on liberating herself.

“I am graduating soon and I’m moving out,” Cole said. “That’s what I want, but in the end, my future isn’t actually clear. We don’t know if I ever did move out.”

Instead, Sherry’s role is more about pushing the others to their own versions of independence.

“Everything I say is pointed for a reason,” Cole said. “I know what to say to hurt them, to wake them up.”

The small cast of women agreed that “Independence” is an emotionally taxing show.

“There was a night where we were all crying backstage,” Randle said. “We’ve had to be
really supportive and check on one another throughout this show.”

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