Last Friday, Staff Writer Jasmine Wright attended the matinee of Sorry Sorry Okay Sorry as part of the New Plays Festival and experienced the flawed humanity of people trying their best. Warning: this play contains themes relating to death, illness, trauma, (and meditation).

This play was excellent. I didn’t know what to expect going into it except the title intrigued me—as someone who says sorry way too much!

The play was part of the Columbia School of the Arts’ “New Plays Festival”, a whole host of original plays organised by Leslie Ayvazian in the theatre department, all written by Columbia’s wonderful MFA playwriting students. The play was directed by Taila Feldberg (Columbia Theatre Directing MFA ‘26) and centred on two childhood best friends from Laurel, Oregon. The blurb was that the play, penned by Emily Elyse Everett (Columbia Dramatic Writing MFA, ’24) “centers around funny things that happen in our saddest moments, sad things that happen in our funniest moments, and competitive meditation.” Yes, you read that right—“competitive mediation”. The first two lines I was 100% hooked but competitive mediation?! However, bear with me, upon further reflection, I realize that it is a crucial element to the play’s success. 

The two friends in question are Clementine (Jillian Warden) and Clancy (Madeline Addis), both 25, both at that sort of awkward juncture in life where you are still very much in your adolescence and “figuring it out” but are at the same time desperately trying to almost perform adulthood. From the woven-in “therapy talk” to the very mature, and healthy relationship between Clementine and David (Jake Steinberg, Columbia Acting MFA, ‘25), to the fact that Clancy would rather stay in all day lounging around with her childhood friend than go in to work and face the realities of the harsh world that looms over us all who are similarly on this cusp and have to contend with adverse life experiences.

Clementine is back in Oregon with her boyfriend, David, who is in town for the world conference of “The Warrior’s Way,” a sort of Eastern philosophy-inspired “sport.” He has just ranked in the “Phoenix category” (12 years or more practicing “the way”). What exactly he is competing in is a running joke throughout and the definitions he gives are murky at best but it’s some kind of variation of white people again butchering/co-opting Eastern practices basically is what it boils down to it seemed. From the enthusiastic demonstrations that David gives to the audience, it seems perhaps a bit like Tai Chi. But definitely “NOT MEDITATION” David hilariously demands throughout. 

David is a fascinating specimen. We have all unfortunately encountered a David in our lives. Usually against our will. David is “29 and a half” and has a singular obsession in life. Clementine tries her hardest to understand but doesn’t really “get it.” She wants to surprise her “best friend” by introducing them and so sneaks into her house. However, a breathtakingly awful scene then takes place when her friend comes home, and she thinks she is there because her dad has just died two weeks ago—leaving her now an orphan as her mum also died back when they were 12. What ensues is then a sad, hilarious three days where David and Clementine stay in Clancy’s childhood home while she attempts to cope with her grief. 

Sometimes you are stuck with people who are going through way too of an emotionally intimate period in their lives and you sort of get sucked into it. Domestic dramas abound. This is precisely what happens here. The set design of Clany’s childhood home was great and felt lived in. I liked the sign postings signifying what day it was. The idea of going back to where you are from but it doesn’t really feel like home anymore was very well executed I thought.

This juxtaposition between the tragic and the comic is expertly played throughout, Everett wisely makes sure it never dips too far in either direction. We can see how each of the three main cast are all just trying hopelessly to attain what it is they seek above all else. Clementine especially just constantly wants to do the right thing! As a result, she often does the precise opposite. In one devastating moment, she comments on how pitiful it is to be alone, totally disregarding her friend’s palpable grief at feeling precisely that. Even David of all people is horrified at this… Clancy meanwhile just wants to be okay. She just wants to feel like her life can in some way finally take off and leave behind the family trauma that she is cloaked in and has been for a very long time, as it’s later revealed to us. David meanwhile is a lot less complex to decipher, his motivations being pretty clear. To win the Phoenix Division of the World Mind of Warrior Conference by any means necessary—even if it means deeply hurting his girlfriend in the process. 

A friend of mine lost her mum in high school and I remember she mentioned her mum to me one day and said “A lot of the time I just instinctively want to tell her something then I remember that I can’t”. This just gutted me to hear and I honestly didn’t know what to say. Everett, in the play’s program, speaks to her own loss for words when her own friend called to tell her that her dad was dying. Her friend asked her “What am I going to do if my dad dies, Emily”. Not knowing what to say Everett fixated on how this tragedy could co-exist with the realities of the scarce work in the theatre world during the height of the pandemic. Her turning to Google for advice then made her feel “ridiculous, excruciating at best, and disconnected, hollow, sterile, at worst”. She, like Clementine, had “turned to generic platitudes instead of engaging with this real human who I had known and loved for 20 years”. How can we “hold big tragedy and small tragedy at the same time” she began with. She ended with the idea of “how, or perhaps if, we can really be there for others”.

This question of how to be a good friend and resist the urge to “fix” something is paramount. Sometimes you really just can’t make it better so you should stop trying to. It’s actually the opposite of comforting and ruins the chance at an honest, true, authentic connection. It’s this whole notion of empathy vs sympathy (Brene Brown had a great video on this you should google it) that Clementine herself has to realise. 

Sometimes we don’t know the “right” thing to say. All we can do is be there for people. That’s enough. That’s really all there is. 

The scene where Clancy explained why she doesn’t like talking about her age was heart-wrenching. Half her life now has been consumed by this trauma she bluntly states. She tries to be brave and acts like time has helped but it really hasn’t. She just feels pulled back to when she was 12 and everything changed for her. She has to grieve this. All the different therapies she rattles off haven’t helped. She has to feel this way in order to finally get past it. She can’t keep pushing it down forever. 

I felt myself rise and give a standing ovation almost involuntarily I didn’t even realise that I was. The 90 minutes absolutely flew past and it was a pleasure to sit in this little insular world for the afternoon. The message that was at the core of the story was profound in its simplicity – that the only way forward is to finally free ourselves from the shackles of our past. As Clancy repeatedly says in the play, sometimes things are just bad

Everett seems to embrace the notion that life is an absurdist comedy of sorts. An example of this is the scene where it’s almost palpably painful the tension and disconnect between the two friends the night after Clementine and David have their big fight and Clementine is on the couch. Then Clancy switches gears and shoots into a random accusation about whether Clementine ate her penne alla vodka. It’s delightfully unhinged and I think this balance in the play between immense grief and the absurdities of life plays very well to make sure the tone has this perfectly calculated balance in it. It keeps it from ever becoming either too saccharine or too outlandish.  

I found Clancy’s character to be very relatable. That’s why Clementine grated on me so much I think. But then Everett subverts her character in this aforementioned penne alla vodka pasta scene. I actually for a second thought Warden did break character with her involuntary giggle but it was just great acting. When they both started bursting out laughing at such a dumb lie that was when the play really had me. I was hooked. I’ve made those kinds of dumb lies myself and also didn’t know why I was digging myself such a deep hole for something so innocuous. 

Throughout the play’s runtime, we are violently thrown from emotion to emotion but that’s life – it’s bittersweet and a lot of tragedy is actually really funny as we see here in Everett’s masterful storytelling.  I felt like I was encroaching on these people’s lives and forgot where I was during the performance (always a good sign!). It wrecked me but in the best possible way. This play is imploring us to heed this warning-  that if we neglect our emotions then they eat us up alive and destroy our chance to build our lives independent of our own personal traumas. 

Overall the play was very humane. It was kind to these people. It was also affectingly realistic. I felt like they were real people and found myself conflating them into people I knew in real life. This one couple I know was almost exactly like David and Clementine. So much so that I felt myself getting viscerally angry at David’s character and rolling my eyes in the back row then checked myself and realised why I was getting so pissed. Steinberg played him pitch perfectly. Definitely self-absorbed and bordering on the line of narcissistic but never too irredeemable when you speak to him one-on-one. He was never too much of an asshole for it to be obvious for Clementine to leave him. 

This play felt very true to life. One line I just loved was when Clancy was like “So David – he kind of sucks right?”, and instinctively Clementine is like “Yeah. Wait no!” It was funny and true. 

David is like the comic relief character in a Shakespeare play (shoutout to Professor Platt for making me constantly draw links between Shakespeare and the world around me now). His constant rants on the warrior’s path (definitely NOT meditation) were intercut between the play’s more dramatic scenes. We all have people like that in our lives who we sort of keep around or like to spend time with as their thoughts are just so far removed from whatever awful tragedy we are dealing with. You can see it on Clancy’s face that David’s ridiculousness sort of grounds her. It offers her a break from her own life. He is sort of light in a way, but in a very vacuous way at that. You sort of feel sorry for him as he is just so emotionally stifled. 

On this note—he says he is having an “emotional difficulty” when he is having his tantrum about his “arch rival” (I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the character but I remember it being vaguely European and definitely hilarious and expertly chosen—Yannick?). I’ve heard many guys like this in real life say this exact thing who are similarly alienated from their emotions hence I laughed out loud at the accuracy of him declaring it as such.

It was a great send-up of the new age guru vibes of people that follow that stuff ( my mum probably would have loved the “way of the warrior” having gone through her own phases of meditation and various other spiritual paths—not knocking it if you are reading this mum it truly does have its merits and mindfulness in whatever form that takes from person to person is always valid!).

Life is hard regardless of the specific circumstances and it’s brave to keep going on regardless of what is thrown our way. As the play broadcasts, sometimes things are just bad and we don’t know the best way to cope or the best way to comfort a friend but all we can do is live through it and crucially not let it consume us. We can’t succumb to the feeling that we are all alone in the world—as awfully comforting as that can sometimes be. Clementine shakes Clancy out of this by forcing her to repeat “My dad is gone. My mom is gone. And I am not alone” over and over again until the message really hits her. And it needs to. 

Learning to stand on your own two feet is hard. But so, so worth it ultimately. Clancy learns this in the play—she will be okay. As cliche as that sounds it’s also just really true. 

After they have this breakthrough Clancy goes “What now?” and Clementine answers back “Lunch.” Life goes on no matter what gut-wrenching events occur and something the next step really is just grabbing lunch. 

I left this play feeling bittersweet in the best way possible – all in all, it was very life-affirming. Thank you, Ms. Everett. I think if your play can reach me it can reach a lot of people. What a wonderful thing that is.

You should all check out the rest of the lineup for some more top-notch Columbia School of the Arts MFA plays – see them while you can as part of the 2024 New Plays Festival!

Program art via Lenfest