Arts Editor Grace Novarr reviews Camp Cattywampus, an original play by Tess Inderbitzin (BC ‘25) and Abigail Duclos (BC ‘23), which ran in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre on November 18 and 19.

What are 15 year-old girls like? Well, they’re silly, naive, and creative. They like gossiping about crushes and stressing about the end-of-summer dance. They’re figuring out the boundaries between child and adult, girl and woman, often symbolized by sexual initiations. But they also deal with truly dark stuff sometimes, and, ideally, must figure out how to handle it without losing the weird, wonderful joy of that era of life. Camp Cattywampus, co-written and co-directed by Abigail Duclos (BC ‘23) and Tess Inderbitzin (BC ‘25), brings together the goofiness and tragedy of teenage girlhood in an original play that’s equal parts funny and heartbreaking. 

The play, which ran in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre on November 18 and 19, follows five girls sharing a bunk at Camp Cattywampus, an arts camp in North Carolina. The girls are Brie (Jaeden Riley Juarez, CC ‘25), Sacha (Ruth Weaver, BC ‘25), Olive (Bella Williams, BC ‘26), Poppy (Lilly Gasterland-Gustafsson, BC ‘25), and Noah (Isabel Beatriz Tongson, BC ‘26), the newbie. Noah sleeps in the bed occupied in previous summers by Maisie, who died the summer before, found drowned in a lake at the bottom of the cliff. The girls, who were all close with Maisie, are all deeply affected by their grief, and the fact that each girl practices a different specific art—Brie dances, Sacha is a poet, Olive paints, Poppy acts, and Noah is a singer-songwriter—affords multiple opportunities for them to express their emotions about Maisie’s death in a manner that doubles as affecting art in its own right. 

The action took place in the bunk, featuring five beds in a row in front of a wall decorated with pinned-up art and the debris of girlhood. We open with Poppy, the bubbly/overbearing musical theater enthusiast, reminding her bunkmates about the Sunshine Festival, which marks the last day of camp. The girls are expected to perform a dance number together, choreographed by Brie. The Sunshine Festival structures the passage of time in the play, as the girls grow more stressed about finding a date to the accompanying dance. 

The writers and actors did an impressive job at making each character feel unique and believable but not caricaturish. Gasterland-Gustafsson as Poppy was spectacular, bringing an aching depth to a character that could have easily felt like a cartoon of a specific type of privileged theater nerd. Poppy’s desire to be desirable, to be chosen, was wrenchingly portrayed in a monologue where she offered an explanation of Maisie’s death, positing that she was pushed off the cliff by Marcus Blake, an adult counselor who impregnated Maisie and killed her to keep it secret. When Poppy then declares “Why wasn’t I the one he laid down?”, it’s a moment that’s shocking in its honesty––that a girl whose best friend was ostensibly murdered by a predatory counselor could in fact experience jealousy of that friend is an uncomfortable but undeniable truth. The writers often created moments of surprising darkness that jarred with the lighthearted comedy of other scenes, but the actors were able to powerfully integrate these two tones into portraits of complex—and thus, real—teenage girls. 

A main subplot of the play follows the growing relationship between openly queer Noah, the newcomer, and Brie, whose relationship to her sexuality is more troubled. Noah’s comfort with herself contrasts with Brie’s apparent self-loathing and inability to confront something about herself—she runs away in the middle of their first kiss. Toward the end of the play, it’s revealed that Brie’s relationship to Maisie went beyond the knowledge of the other girls: they used to kiss, dance, and drink together, and, in fact, they were together on the cliff at the time that Maisie fell into the lake. Brie’s grief has paralyzed her, and though she seems at other moments in the play to be more callous about Maisie than the other girls, this revelation recontextualizes her distance from the others. Noah refuses to be frightened away, pulling Brie into a hug as she sobs. In the end, their relationship hovers somewhere between romance and friendship, but it doesn’t need definition. Maisie’s traumatic death serves, throughout the play, to remind the girls and the audience that a larger force operates within Camp Cattywampus alongside the traditional currents of teenage life—the awareness of mortality, the highest of stakes, overshadows the girls even as they continue with their lives. In this context, labeling relationships is deprioritized; what matters is that Noah and Brie share some kind of love, a love that can redeem them both.

The other two girls, Sacha and Olive, also share a particularly close friendship. Sacha is an intense, articulate, and philosophical writer, whose artistic interlude, in which she monologues an overdue obituary for Maisie, was one of the most powerful moments in the play. Weaver’s performance as Sacha was delightful; she captured a particular self-oblivious angst that was wholly believable, and she embodied an anxiety about friendship and desirability that manifested in her defiantly tomboyish clothing and often aggressive, yet friendly, tone of speech. In contrast, Olive is sweet and feminine, rocking cool eyeshadow and bouncy pigtails. The fact that Olive gets a date to the dance drives a wedge between them, but this is resolved in a hilarious and tender scene when Olive rushes back to the bunk to lament that the boy has just kissed her, and therefore she can never look him in the eye again—so, she asks Sacha to be her date to the dance. While this friendship isn’t characterized by overt romance like that of Noah and Brie, it still represents the passions, jealousies, and joys of being a duo.  

Additionally, the simple sweetness of Olive’s character was complicated by her spotlight moment of grief: she comes onstage alone with a canvas, but instead of painting, she rips the canvas open, smears paint across it with her fingertips, and stomps on it. She then quietly regards her work, sobbing. A scene of extended silence, this moment forced the audience to confront the anger that accompanies loss. 

The play often lacked subtlety in its dialogue; major themes were stated outright, as characters asked each other: “Do people deserve a second chance?” and “Do you think of yourself as a woman or a girl?” These writing choices may have been aimed at mimicking teenage earnestness, but the effect was speech that felt unnatural. However, such overtness reflected the play’s broad ambition to capture so many parts of life at once. Other themes within the play included the experience gap between people of the same age (Brie and Noah are each sexually experienced, Poppy, Olive, and Sacha hopelessly not so), wealth inequalities (Poppy and Brie are well-off, Sacha and Olive are “economically limited”), and the budding influence of alcohol. Though some of these themes were integrated more deftly than others, they all accurately reflected real forces that shape girls’ lives.

Ultimately, if the play has flaws, it’s easy for the audience to want to forgive them; the show is so big-hearted, so empathetic, that it’s hard not to love it. The actors did a spectacular job at portraying five girls divided by social forces and grief, but united again by the bonds of female friendship, their shared valuation of art and creativity, and the same grief, which brings them together in remembrance of their friend even as it highlights the different relationships they had with her. In one of the most affecting moments of the play, Poppy, who has just been rejected by a boy she’s asked to the dance, collapses and sobs, “I just want to go with Maisie… like it always was.” This scene perfectly encapsulates the play’s union of different levels of tragedy: the sting of rejection combines with the overwhelming pain of loss. Camp Cattywampus makes the progression between different registers of emotion look and feel as natural as it does in real life, a true artistic accomplishment. 

Set via Olivia Kuan-Romano