“If/Then” is a musical that every college student should see. It asks many of the questions that keep young adults up at night: questions about fate and chance, choice and consequence. The show seeks to answer these questions and more, but occasionally the best the show can do is throw up its hands and say “Who knows?”
From Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, the Case Western Reserve University Footlighters performed the Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt musical in Carlton Commons. A skillful set design team transformed the space into New York City by way of a cardboard-and-plywood skyline, complete with lighted windows.
The play followed Elizabeth, played by first-year Marissa Lahr, a recently divorced urban planner who moves to New York City to pursue a new life. In the opening scene, she finds herself in Central Park. There, she runs into her former boyfriend and activist Lucas, played by third-year Luke Doston, while on her way to meet her free-spirited neighbor Kate, played by fourth-year Brittany Stern. Elizabeth is faced with the choice of spending the day with Kate in search of love and freedom or protesting with Lucas.
From that point forward, the play follows two timelines. In one timeline, Elizabeth decides to go by “Liz,” and spends the day with Kate. In the other, Elizabeth chooses to be “Beth,” and goes to protest with Lucas.
Throughout the course of the musical, the timelines diverged and converged, showing how Elizabeth’s life was affected by her decision at the beginning of the musical. The production team used lighting to indicate which timeline was which. In the “Liz” timeline, the skyline was lit pink, and in the “Beth” timeline, the skyline was blue.
Occasionally the stage became a mirror, showing both timelines at once. Half of the stage was lit pink for the Liz timeline and the other half was lit blue for the Beth timeline. Elizabeth’s choreography swings her from one reality to the other, illustrating the differences created by the seemingly small decision of going with Kate or going with Lucas.
Sometimes, Elizabeth’s decision did not matter at all: no matter what choices she made as either Liz or Beth, sometimes she was unable to avoid the inevitable. In these scenes, blue and pink blended together into purple, which indicated that reality was absolute.
Throughout the course of the show, Liz and Beth lived very different lives. Liz sacrificed her career ambitions to start a family with Josh, a doctor and army reserve officer, but in doing so, she left herself open to hurt she never thought possible.
As Beth, she skyrocketed through the ranks of New York City’s Department of City Planning, finally realizing her graduate school dreams of designing a meaningful cityscape. However, in doing so, Beth neglected and harmed many of her personal relationships.
In the end though, the major points of both realities were the same. As both Liz and Beth, Elizabeth met and fell in love with Josh, played by first-year Kyle Rickert. Both Liz and Beth were offered high-profile urban planning jobs and the opportunity to pursue their passion. However, the small meaningful events that lay in between these pillars were markedly different, and it was left to the audience to decide what was inevitable, what was fate and what was merely coincidence.
Is it worth sacrificing your career for love? Is it worth being miserable in the present to ensure happiness later? These are some of the conflicts that plagued both Beth and Liz, and they might sound like conflicts that plague students, too, as students face decisions that could impact the rest of their life on a daily basis.
Director Paulina Martz, a third-year student, recommended the show to the Footlighters because of the reassurance it offers people facing tough decisions.
“I first saw [If/Then] four years ago … It came to me during an emotional time in my life. It was really an intense catharsis,” Martz said.
Rickert agreed with Martz and said the show helped him gain perspective on day to day life.
“One of the big things I took away [from the play] is that a bunch of c— can happen to you. You’ve just got to go with the flow. Tomorrow is always a new day, and you’ve got to have a strong will to keep going. That sort of attitude is something that I strive to have,” he said.
For others, the simple act of being in the show was a catharsis in itself. For Lahr, the best part of the play was just being involved.
“Everyone is so nice,” Lahr said, “It helped me adjust to college life really quickly, meeting all these new people.”
Last weekend’s performance of “If/Then” was an incredible, emotional experience. Rickert and Lahr’s powerful performances and the great supporting work by Doston and Stern got the play’s message across well. The presence of two first-year students in the lead roles points toward a bright future for the next four years of Footlighters’ productions.
Editor’s Note: Footlighters is a member of the University Media Board which also includes The Observer.