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Professors, students and alumni bring a new play to the New York stage

Elli Caterisano ’18 (left)

In the middle of the night, on a rural highway just outside the small college town of Troy, Alabama, a retired college professor and her daughter encounter a naked man stumbling around their back yard.

“Which, oddly enough, happens more often than you might think,” said Furman theatre arts professor Margaret Rose Caterisano.

She should know: She’s from there. Although she has been a South Carolinian since joining Furman’s faculty in 1986, Caterisano went to Troy State University (now known as Troy University), and grew up in Elba, Alabama. Caterisano also created those three characters – the mother, Wattle; her daughter, Sarah; and the naked man, Thomas. And her own daughter, Elli Caterisano ’18, who double-majored in theatre arts and music at Furman, introduced the character of Sarah to a New York City theater this summer.

Margaret Caterisano’s play, “Sheepwell,” debuted in New York City on Aug. 5 as part of the SheNYC Summer Theatre Festival at the Connelly Theatre in the East Village. The production won the festival’s awards for Best Script and Best Production.

Theater fans everywhere can watch the production online Aug. 17-24.

“Sheepwell” is about “first impressions – the assumptions you make about people,” said Elli Caterisano. “You judge a book by its cover, and sometimes it backfires.”

Stage manager Mae Mae Collins ’25 (left) looks on as theatre arts professor Margaret Rose Caterisano directs her daughter, Elli Caterisano ’18, in her play “Sheepwell.”

As “Sheepwell” unfolds over the course of one night and the following afternoon, Wattle, Sarah and Thomas contend with – along with first impressions – firearms, tomatoes, Moon Pies, whiskey, academia, departmental politics, adultery, cats, an empty well, a mysterious disappearance and 17th-century Spanish drama.

The play started as “a little exercise for myself,” said the playwright, who wanted to explore shifting interpersonal power dynamics, starting by putting someone in the most vulnerable position imaginable: naked, at gunpoint.

“And then, as I was writing it, all of these things that I knew about and just stored away in my subconscious just kind of kept peeking out,” she said. “The play is full of stories that I believe to be true.”

After an initial read-through over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic, the writer’s friends encouraged her to keep working on the play and ultimately submit it to a playwriting competition. Their support paid off: Elli Caterisano and her castmates – Sam Nelson, who graduated from Furman in 2017 with a degree in theatre arts, and Margaret Oakes, a professor of English at Furman – are rehearsing in The Playhouse on campus during most of July, but “Sheepwell” had its debut in New York City on Aug. 5 as part of the SheNYC Summer Theatre Festival at the Connelly Theatre in the East Village.

Nelson was back on campus for the summer on a break from pursuing his Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies at Ohio University in Athens. Carol Sutton, an experienced Furman Playhouse director, and her husband, Jay Oney, a professor of theatre arts at Furman, helped with the direction of “Sheepwell.”

“Jay and Carol have poured their hearts and sweat into rehearsals,” said Margaret Caterisano. “I am so grateful for their kindness.”

Theatre arts major Mae Mae Collins ’25 was the stage manager of the production, while prop master and Furman alumnus Jackson Pratt ’22, another former theatre arts major, joined the crew in New York City.

The summer has been busy, but the Furman reunion was welcome, Elli Caterisano said.

She also enjoyed the opportunity to get away for a while from New York City, where she is launching her performing career after earning an MFA in acting at the University of Montana.

“It feels really nice to be back in Greenville,” she said, “doing what feels normal at a place I love, with people I love.”

Last updated July 19, 2022
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director