When I Consider Everything That Grew, written by Talia Hankin, CC ‘22, and directed by Camilla Cox, CC ‘22, was put on for just two days last week by NOMADS. Despite that, the play, starring Taylor Richardson, GS ‘25, and Elias Wachtel, CC ‘25, will remain relevant far beyond for its poignant questioning of what it means to lose a loved one, to desperately hold on, and to finally have to move forward without them.

Editor’s Warning: Discussions of School Shooting

On Friday evening, Glicker-Milstein Theater—usually overcrowded with rickety, faded canvas chairs—instead found itself adorned under floral-patterned picnic blankets. Taking in the warm overhead lighting as if enjoying the Central Park sunshine, groups of students huddled together in easy, cross-legged company. Subtle birdsong chirped from the theater’s sound system while the audience exchanged intimate whispers, afraid to disrupt the delicate purity of the moment. 

One could almost ignore the gravestone looming conspicuously at center stage. 

It was easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. The stage itself melted into the audience. A few wooden benches. Some flowers. A picnic blanket, indistinguishable from those throughout the rest of the theater. In fact, calling it a stage is more than a little misleading. More accurately, it was just the point on which the audience couldn’t help but focus. No one could quite look away from the grave: a scar on the idyllic scene, morbidly out of place. 

Addressing the audience just before dimming the lights, director Camilla Cox warned of the difficult nature of what was to come. When I Consider Everything That Grew deals with the grieving process of two friends—August, portrayed by Taylor Richardson, and Colson, portrayed by Elias Wachtel—as they navigate life after the tragic death of their friend, Aster, at the hands of a school shooter.

It is a familiar story for far too many, including the play’s author, Talia Hankin, who graduated from Newtown School District in Connecticut. It is the same school district that had to bear the unbearable when 26 people, including 20 children, were killed in the terrorist attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. In Hankin’s words, “This play is a love letter to joy, to loss, and to my hometown of Newtown. To every kid who still sets up their picnic blanket in the cemetery, this is for you.”

Despite this intense scale, When I Consider Everything That Grew deals not with the grief of a community but with two teenagers trying to recreate banal normalcy after a profound loss. The entire play is set at the base of Aster’s tombstone. Lush and green, the memorial is overflowing with life, as are August and Colson.

The pair meets at this sacred space every Thursday to do their homework, banter, and just enjoy each other’s company in the memory of their departed friend. Hankin’s smooth, stylized, ever-so-slightly over-the-top dialogue makes these early scenes flow like the audience is peeping through the bushes at two childhood friends holding on to their innocence for as long as they can. The chemistry, however, between Richardson and Wachtel is what really makes these early scenes a joy to behold.

This natural chemistry is best exemplified the second time we witness August and Colson at the memorial. As usual, they do their homework together, this time reading The Great Gatsby aloud to one another. But they devise a drinking game to spice things up, taking shots every time one of them—reading as if in a play of overly haughty, Fitzgeraldian proportions—drawls a string of superfluous adjectives, or impersonates Daisy acting insufferably, or exclaims the name Gatsby, or half-a-dozen other stipulations too esoteric for any but these two to remember. 

As Richardson and Wachtel dance around the stage, jumping on benches and twirling each other about to cries of “slenderly! languidly!” it becomes apparent that we are not simply watching two actors pretend to be friends, but two friends in reality. Watching August and Colson’s infectiously frenetic stage presence in that moment was, to me, indistinguishable from witnessing Richardson and Wachtel frantically sprinting in front of Morton Williams one week prior in search of the backpack they left in the Shake Shack on 116th St., laughing all the way. 

Still, the gravestone haunts the scene. With every burning shot that the pair chokes down, they pour one out for Aster. As their gusto grows, the speed increases and the energy turns from excited to manic. Richardson is nearly screaming by the time she reaches the line which laments Daisy’s “continually disappointed anticipation or else sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.” When they finally spin out and the meta-play concludes, they aren’t so much pouring one out for their lost friend as they are hurling liquid at her memory. 

This is the moment in which the whole play sits: somewhere between having uncomplicated fun with a friend and pretending things are normal until it’s impossible to ignore their wretched abnormality. 

As the events progress, all we see are the snapshots of changing lives. There are highs, like when August and Colson both get accepted into the colleges of their dreams; and lows, like when Colson misses a Thursday meeting because life gets in the way. But mostly, there is an infuriating transience. As August desperately clings to the memory of Aster, Colson begins to let her go.

Accepting loss, in When I Consider Everything That Grew as in life, is not a momentary event to complete and move on. It is a million little let-downs from a million subtle carelessnesses. Loss is a voicemail replayed until the play button breaks. It is choosing to remain with those who are past rather than build a future with those who are present. It is the inability to be fully present anywhere for want of being somewhere else. 

When I Consider Everything That Grew has just as much to say about what it’s like to preserve memory. It acknowledges the value of the little rituals that keep their presences with us long after they’re gone. For August, it is pouring out the shot that Aster can no longer take. It is bringing her a milkshake because it would’ve brightened her day. It is reciting Aster a poem each time she has to leave her behind to keep on living.

Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 15” does not just provide the inspiration for the play’s title. Every time August has to say goodbye to Aster, at the end of each scene, she sits cross-legged in front of the tombstone, faces toward the sky, and recites these fourteen lines:

When I consider everything that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment,

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

When I perceive that men as plants increase,

Cheered and check’d even by the selfsame sky,

Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

And wear their brave state out of memory;

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay

Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay

To change your day of youth to sullied night;

And all in war with Time for love of you,

As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

The poem, as the play, is about the fleeting nature of life, but neither is nihilistic. Even as August acknowledges that she can’t hold on to Aster as she once was, she promises to craft her anew despite it all. The play concludes as August, with the help of Colson, recites “Sonnet 15” and builds Aster’s memory up again. She is kept alive in the present tense, just as the two friends know her today: as the chirping birds and setting sun. 

When I Consider Everything That Grew Cover Art via Columbia NOMADS Facebook

Update March 7 at 8:32 pm: The post was edited to correct the spelling of the character Aster’s name and the school of involved students.