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Honey Girls: A deeply personal student production at DePaul

Cast+members+chat+during+the+dress+rehearsal+for+%22Honey+Girls%22+at+the+Theatre+School.+The+show+officially+opens+on+May+17+and+will+end+its+run+on+May+26.+
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Honey Girls: A deeply personal student production at DePaul

Cast members chat during the dress rehearsal for

Cast members chat during the dress rehearsal for "Honey Girls" at the Theatre School. The show officially opens on May 17 and will end its run on May 26.

Stacey Sheridan / The DePaulia

Cast members chat during the dress rehearsal for "Honey Girls" at the Theatre School. The show officially opens on May 17 and will end its run on May 26.

Stacey Sheridan / The DePaulia

Stacey Sheridan / The DePaulia

Cast members chat during the dress rehearsal for "Honey Girls" at the Theatre School. The show officially opens on May 17 and will end its run on May 26.

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Starting in 2004, The Theatre School at DePaul University selects one student-written play to be produced, staged and performed for audiences at the end of May. This season of the New Playwright Series, graduating senior Grace Grindell snagged the coveted opportunity with “Honey Girls,” a play she wrote inspired by her own experiences dealing with her mother’s battle with and subsequent death from lung cancer. 

At its core, “Honey Girls” is a story about the strength of three women in the face of adversity. Central character Mazie Lancaster, played by Michela Murray, is an academically-driven high school senior with a penchant for baking and a dream of attending Brown University. Not long into the first act, Mazie finds her world completely shaken after her mother, Marigold, played by Ashlea Woodley, is diagnosed with only six months left to live after her cancer treatments stop working.

“It’s about Mazie recalibrating the way she understands her life, how she will try to imagine a future without her mother in it and how she will try to survive without her,” Grindell explained. A single mother, Marigold is Mazie’s entire world and Mazie is Marigold’s. The other most important person in Marigold’s life is her best friend, Laura, played by Grainne Ortlieb. She and Mazie help Marigold every step of the way, attending treatments with her, making sure Marigold is exercising and eating according to the keto diet Marigold’s doctor recommended. The three women share a bond so strong it seems even cancer can’t break it, so it’s heart-wrenching watching the severity of Marigold’s illness play out.

“I was interested in telling a story primarily about women and women who don’t have a lot of men in their lives and what that looks like,” Grindell said. The play has only two male characters in it — Feener, who is Mazie’s English teacher and mentor, and Grant, Mazie’s friend and love interest. Matthew Martinez Hannon and Gregory Fields play Feener and Grant, respectively.

Carlos Murillo, the school’s head of playwriting, directed “Honey Girls.” Although Murillo isn’t a woman, he is completely aware of the importance and the strength of female relationships play in “Honey Girl,” according to Grindell. That deep understanding of both the playwriting process and the play’s central theme made it easy for Grindell to trust him completely in his direction of “Honey Girls.”

“Carlos is so wonderful,” she said. “He always runs things by me and checks in with me and makes sure that the play is following the vision I had for it.” The two have been in constant collaboration in every aspect of the play, allowing Grindell the opportunity to speak her mind and respecting her input.

The father of a teenage daughter, Murillo “has a really close understanding of what it would mean to be leaving his children if he was sick.” While Grindell wrote the play with the perspective of having been a teenager who lost her mother to cancer, Murillo has the perspective of a parent who won’t be able to see every part of his children’s lives as time goes on. Murillo directs “Honey Girls” with that sensitivity and wisdom. 

Stacey Sheridan / The DePaulia

Having advised Grindell throughout the process of writing the play, he also knows the material very well and is aware of how Grindell’s own mother and the grief of losing her influenced the storyline of the play.

“Carlos said it really well,” Grindell said. “He told me it feels like an homage to my mother.”

Grindell never set out to write a play directly about her experience losing her mother to cancer. In fact, she was hesitant to even write about the subject at all. “It still felt really, really close,” she said. “But I felt compelled to.” Channeling her grief into writing “Honey Girls” gave her a new understanding of what happened to her family. Though the story she wrote is different from her own experience, the same emotions shape the play.  “It’s the feeling of her having cancer and the feeling of her dying,” Grindell said.  “All of that is truthful and from my life, but I never sat down and tried to write a memory down.” Her plays, she thinks, will always be personally inspired

Though the process of writing “Honey Girls” was hard, Grindell is glad she did it. The process, she said, has been very healing for her, as well as challenging. “It’s hard to sit in that time that was so tumultuous and tragic when I was in the middle of anticipating that loss,” Grindell said. “It’s hard emotionally to always be back in that place, but I’m still in the grieving process, just in a different phase.”

Grindell wishes her mother could see the play, though she knows it would never have been written if she were still alive. Unlike Mazie, Grindell isn’t an only child. She has a sister, who writes about motherhood for Romper, a division of Bustle. It was actually her sister’s idea to name the play “Honey Girls” because “honey girl” was their mother’s pet name for Grindell. 

“We both talk about how some of our best writing is about grief and our mom and we still want to share it with her,” Grindell said. “It feels like she can see it in some way.”

Grindell is so proud of everyone who has been involved with taking “Honey Girls” from the page to the stage. Having sat in on the casting process, Grindell was able to hand-pick the actors for each role. The six-person cast is a mixed bag of graduate and undergraduate students, who each bring vulnerability and grace to their roles, as well as moments of comedy and light, offering a reprieve from the play’s serious subject matter without coming off as insensitive or unrealistic. “I trust them completely and their generosity is unbelievable,” Grindell said of the actors. “I feel so, so lucky.”

The sets and costumes, as well as the lighting, gives the play a very authentic feel. “All the designers are doing amazing, amazing work,” Grindell said. “They’re willing to try anything, do anything and be on the journey of the play. It’s a really incredible group of people.”

The set is built to look like a family’s kitchen and living room. The walls are painted a sunny shade of honey-gold, perhaps a nod to the color of the flower with which Marigold shares her name or the play’s name. On the walls hang family photographs and art. A poster of Gloria Gaynor, whose song “I Will Survive” helps Marigold cope with cancer and the difficulties it brings, hangs on the wall not far from a painting that says, “Life is tough, but so are you,” a motto befitting for the three strong women at the center of the play.

Grindell hopes those who see the play will leave with a new feeling of connectedness. “I think everybody in some way has a relationship to cancer. If it hasn’t affected you personally, someone you know or love has been affected by it very closely,” Grindell said. “I hope that people will feel a moment of recognition and a moment of not feeling alone in that experience.”

On the heels of Mother’s Day, “Honey Girls” opens May 15 and runs until May 26 at the Healy Theatre in DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. Audiences will leave reminded of the beautiful relationship mothers and children share.

“I’ve tried very hard to imbue in the play with the love I have for my mother and the love she had for me and the endurance of that love,” Grindell said. Anyone who sees “Honey Girls” will recognize that.

The cast features Gregory Fields (Grant), Matthew Martinez Hannon (Feener), Maricruz Menchero (Dr. Campbell/Anne), Michela Murray (Mazie Lancaster), Grainne Ortlieb (Laura), and Ashlea Woodley (Marigold Lancaster).

The production team includes scenic design by Alyssa Mohn, costume design by Olive Earley, lighting design by Scott Tobin, sound design by Chris Comstock, technical direction by Brendan Hein, dramaturgy by Madie Doppelt, and stage management by Nicholas Nyquist.

1 Comment

One Response to “Honey Girls: A deeply personal student production at DePaul”

  1. Dede Adams on May 13th, 2019 8:37 pm

    Grace,

    I am sitting here in awe of your talent, your maturity and your willingness to go through the process of writing and bringing this play to life. Truly, I’m sitting here incredulous! How can you possibly just be 22 years old?!

    Your mom is watching some how some where and I know she is incredibly proud. Any mother would be.!You are keeping her spirit alive.

    I have a picture of your mom in my make up drawer and I think of her often; in fact, I said hi to her morning.And I can hear her talking about her Honey Girls.

    I wish you all the best. I’m certain your play will be
    Fabulous.

    With love,

    D-e-d-e

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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