Staff Writer Grace Novarr reviews NOMADS’ latest student-written-and-produced show, Abigail Duclos’ (BC ‘23) Anointed With Gasoline

On Friday, March 19th, I attended the 8:00 pm show of NOMADS’ latest production, Anointed With Gasoline. The play, written by Abigail Duclos (BC ‘23), is a (quite literally) fiery show that deals with queer love, queer rage, and queer healing. Under the direction of Kathy Fang (CC ‘24), Anointed With Gasoline blossoms into a moving, aching narrative of a young woman coping with and moving past trauma. 

The story concerns a young woman, Eli Reyes (Isobel Obrecht BC ‘22), who is growing up in a homophobic town in rural Pennsylvania. At a vulnerable moment in her life – her father, with whom she had a complicated relationship, has recently been killed in a car accident – she becomes close with a fellow outcast, Jesse Parker (Deanna Caudra CC ‘21), who endures homophobic taunting at the hands of her older brother, Nick (Octavio Vourvoulias CC ‘24). The two begin a friendship that blossoms into something more, but when Nick finds out, he threatens them. Terrified and angry, Eli ends up driving to a cabin where Nick often parties and setting it on fire, not knowing that he’s still in there. 

Four years later, Eli is in therapy. The narrative is framed through Eli’s recounting of her traumatic memories to her therapist, Dr. Wilma Wright (Bella Fenn CC ‘24). After finally unloading her feelings of guilt and self-loathing about the role she played in the cabin fire, Eli finds the courage to come out to her mother, Miriam (Alexis Nikolia Buncich CC ‘21). At the end, she reunites with Jesse, whom she has not seen for years. 

The framing of the narrative through Eli’s therapy session with Dr. Wright allows for Obrecht to display her acting skills magnificently. During the pivotal scene where Eli reveals her memories of the night of the fire, her voice trembles and breaks. The characters of her mother, Jesse, and Nick appear on the screen, visible only to Eli in her memory. Obrecht convincingly portrays a young woman haunted by trauma, wracked by guilt. Later, she asks her mother, “Am I evil? Am I a violent piece of shit? Am I going to turn into him?” Here, it feels like a lifetime of suffering and pain is contained in those words.

The script does an excellent job of being both self-contained and wide-reaching, managing to pack many important themes into the story of just one girl. A continuing motif is that of religion with Eli being named after the prophet Elijah. When Eli comes out to her mother, she bitterly says that she’s going to burn in Hell, but her mother replies that “the prophet Elijah ascends to Heaven.”  

Though Eli earlier says to Jesse that she doesn’t believe in an afterlife, she knows her mother does. Eli’s mother being able to use her own belief system to find a way to accept her daughter’s queerness feels like a necessary narrative to portray. The interactions between Miriam and Eli feel real; Buncich and Obrecht portray the roles of anxious, caring parent and sullen, vulnerable young adult masterfully.

As with all the other virtual plays I’ve had the chance to see this year, the virtual nature of the show was mined for creative opportunity. At the beginning and ends of the production, a cinematic montage played, flickering alternative images of burning cabins, pillars of smoke, open roads, a woman in the bath, and the faces of the highways. These brief segments added a glossy, professional sheen to the production. 

The kiss scenes were shown through stick figures made out of wire, silhouetted against a white wall, meeting between the close-up faces of Eli and Jesse. The effect was a beautiful simplicity, a kiss poetically distilled into its essential emotional components. 

Despite evidently performing much of the show from a seated position, the actors still managed to convey a lot with their physicality. Obrecht in particular was fantastic, alternating between seeming small and scared and seeming defiant and courageous. Fenn as Dr. Wright maintained a professional, mature posture and tone throughout the show, appropriate for a therapist. She also functioned as a narrator in certain places, introducing each act with a style that reminded me of a newscaster. 

At times, the pacing of the show felt a little rushed, such as when Eli and Jesse’s relationship blossomed towards romance within the space of two conversations. However, even if I wasn’t convinced of their love for each other when the last conversation began, I was by the end of it. 

In their final meeting, Caudra and Obrecht did their best work, convincingly portraying two former lovers who had never forgotten each other meeting again for the first time in years. They quickly brush past the fact that Eli possibly maimed Jesse’s brother, agreeing that he deserved it, and Jesse explaining that he had been a much better person since the fire. Despite the fact that I didn’t find this conversation believable, I couldn’t help appreciating seeing Eli and Jesse back together and the redemptive power of queer love winning the day. My heart genuinely warmed when Eli said to Jesse, “It’ll fuck with everything I’ve believed all these years. Someone like you, loving someone like me,” to which Jesse replied, “Maybe you should stop believing all that, then.” 

Ultimately, despite dealing with such dark themes, Anointed With Gasoline is optimistic that negative beliefs are malleable and that love  – familial and romantic – can overcome hate. And, just maybe, arson can overcome hate, too.

Get your tickets for tonight’s showing here.

Image via screenshot from my MacBook.