PHOTO: Princeton junior Juliette Carbonnier as Hatty Hosmer (left) and senior Rosemary Paulson as Matilda Hays in a studio rehearsal for the new play Affecting Expression. Photo Credit: Dylan Tran ’23
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University presents Affecting Expression, a new queer tragicomedy by Princeton alum Eliana Cohen-Orth. The play tells the tale of three queer women from history — actress Charlotte Cushman, writer Matilda Hays, and sculptor Hatty Hosmer — as they navigate their intersecting artistic paths and the complexities of their relationships with each other and within the increasingly unreliable walls of their home. The production is directed by Princeton senior Eliyana Abraham and features senior Rosemary Paulson. Performances, which are free and open to the public, are Friday and Saturday, October 7 and 8 at 8:00pm and Sunday, October 9 at 2:00pm in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus; no tickets are required.
An audience talkback will follow the October 7 performance led by Dean of the College Jill Dolan, Professor of Theater Stacy Wolf, Abraham and Cohen-Orth. The Wallace Theater is an accessible venue and has an assistive listening system. Guests in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at least one week in advance at LewisCenter@princeton.edu.
Eliana Cohen-Orth, Class of 2021, first became interested in Charlotte Cushman as a historical figure after reading her biography, When Romeo was a Woman by Lisa Merrill with a foreword by Dolan. Cushman (1816-1876) was an internationally renowned stage actress, known in particular for playing male roles such as Hamlet and Romeo, and who lived openly with female romantic partners throughout her life. As Cohen-Orth further researched Cushman’s life, she became equally fascinated by the other women in Cushman’s circles, including a community of female writers and artists living in Rome, many drawn there by Cushman. This community included Matilda Hays, a British novelist, translator, journalist, advocate for women’s rights and Charlotte’s long-term partner; and Harriet Hosmer, who would eventually become the most well-known female sculptor in America in the 19th century. These three women—and the relationships between them—are the core of Affecting Expression.
The development process for the play asked questions such as: how can we transform historical queer experiences for modern artists and audiences? How do theater-makers maintain healthy relationships with theater-making, and make art in a way that is physically and emotionally sustainable? How can artists come together to tell a story that they and other queer artists can look to and see their experiences, emotions, friendships, relationships, and artistry, reflected in an honest way?
Cohen-Orth is a playwright, director, and all-around theater-maker from New York City. Affecting Expression began as her Princeton senior thesis in English; she was awarded the Alan S. Downer Prize for her work. At the Lewis Center she directed the first production of Unbecoming by Emma Watkins, Class of 2018; performed in Jiehae Park’s Peerless and the first production of Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ Gurls; and wrote and developed a short documentary play for All Her Power: The 50th Anniversary of Undergraduate Coeducation. As a certificate student in the Program in Theater, she received the Francis LeMoyne Page Theater Award. Among her other directing projects are Jen Silverman’s The Moors and Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice—both with the Princeton student group Theatre Intime—and a youth production of Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher. Throughout her time at Princeton, she served on the board and as general manager of Theatre Intime. In addition, she worked with Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education Office (SHARE) to revise and direct the annual production of The Way You Move, presented at the McCarter Theatre to all incoming first-year students. In 2020, as artistic director of Princeton Summer Theater, she planned and executed a unique, virtual season. When not making theater, Cohen-Orth works as the event production coordinator for The Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, where she notes that she combines her love of literature and her commitment to connecting audiences with innovative arts programming.
Eliyana Abraham, director of the production, is majoring in neuroscience and pursuing certificates in theater and music theater. She is from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She has worked on many productions with the Lewis Center and student theater groups. She notes, “The process behind Affecting Expression has been filled with more joy, gentleness, honesty, and beauty than I ever could have imagined.” Her past directing credits include the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Vestalia, Theatre Intime and Princeton University Players’ joint production of Shrek the Musical, and Princeton University Players’ Sex on Broadway; she also served as choreographer on these two productions.
Abraham has also performed in several Lewis Center productions, including Unbecoming (Maria), Lizzie: the Musical (Alice Russell), Take Care: Collective Circus Project, Tea (Setsuko Banks), and Lia (Lia). In addition to directing and performing, she has also created sound design for The Laramie Project and Sniper and serves as a stage management mentor, theater technician, and student advisor for the Lewis Center. She has also served as the president of Princeton University Players and as the business manager of Theatre Intime. After graduation, Abraham plans to pursue directing, movement, and acting professionally.
Rosemary Paulson, playing Matilda Hays, is a senior in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with additional certificates in theater and architecture. She grew up in Northern Virginia and attended Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School where she started pursuing theater. In high school, she was involved in productions such as Romeo and Juliet and Little Shop of Horrors. At Princeton, she has previously been involved with Tea through the Lewis Center and with student organizations including Princeton University Players, where she directed her first show, Mangroves. Outside of traditional theater, Paulson writes for the Princeton student late night comedy show All-Nighter and regularly performs standup on campus and around the area. She notes, “I am incredibly honored to be a part of Affecting Expression and having the privilege of portraying queerness onstage.”
The rest of the cast includes senior Sam Melton as Dramatis Personae, senior Maggie Poost as Charlotte Cushman, and junior Juliette Carbonnier as Hatty Hosmer.
Student members of the production team are sophomore Emily Yang as set designer, senior Angelica Qin as lighting designer, senior Elliot Lee as sound designer, senior Gabriela Bourla as stage manager, and junior TJ Rickey, Jr. and first-year student Zach Williamson as assistant stage managers. Professional costume designer and alum Jules Peiperl, Class of 2017, is a consultant on the project. Faculty advisors on the project are Shariffa Ali and Tess James.
All guests must either be fully vaccinated, or have recently tested negative (via PCR within 72 hours or via rapid antigen test within 8 hours of the scheduled visit) and be prepared to show proof if asked, or wear a face covering when indoors and around others.
To learn more about this event, the Program in Theater, and the over 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented each year at the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit the Lewis Center website.