Cutting the stigma: ‘Scissoring’ explores intersections of religion, homosexuality, historical mysteries and self-actualization

Two actors sit side by side, talking.
“Scissoring,” a student-directed show, will run from April 8-10 at Pomona College’s Allen Theatre. (Courtesy: Evan Johnson)

As soon as audiences walk into the Allen Theatre, sit down and see the inverted letters in the set design of “Scissoring,” they’re in for a thought-provoking exploration of the duality of Catholicism and queerness.

As part of its Studio Series, the Pomona College Department of Theater is producing “Scissoring,” its first student-directed show, according to Taelor Hansen PO ’22, the show’s director. The story’s overarching tale is about identifying and disidentifying with religious beliefs, battling with the conscious and subconscious and an intersection between the id and the superego.

The plot revolves around the protagonist, Abigail Bauer, who is forced to come out of the closet when she takes a position as a teacher at a traditional Catholic school, despite her long-term girlfriend’s desires. Abigail seeks advice from the ghosts of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Eleanor’s devoted friend and lover, Lorena Hickok, as she battles to balance her career ambitions, personal connections, religious beliefs and internalized shame. Abigail fights to find the strength to be herself in the midst of it all.

Exploring the theme of queerness in a constrictive society, “Scissoring” is a critique of certain ideas proposed by religion; however, the story encompasses more than just that. Doa Barney PZ ’25, who plays Lorena Hickok, explains that it’s more than just a coming-out story.

“Queerness has been touched on just being the [subject], especially in such a concretely normative space like the Catholic Church but I think tangentially parallel to that, it is also a coming of age story, as well,” Barney said.

While the play is set in the ’90s, the themes remain understandable and the conflicts remain universal. Cast member Lila Rubin PZ ’24, who plays the character of Celia, believes in the enduring relevance of the play.

“The plot is something that I think people don’t realize still happens,” Rubin said. “When I talk to people about what the play is, they think it’s set in the 80s or the 90s, but [don’t know] the morality clauses still exist.”

The morality clause refers to a religious contract that sets rules and moral expectations for the employees of Christian schools. Stage manager Claire Van Note PO ’23 explained how the morality clause fit into the plot of the play.

“Abigail takes a job at [an] all-Catholic girls high school teaching history but in order to take that job you have to sign the morality clause, where the school says we can terminate your employment if you do anything that goes against our Catholic values,” Van Note said. “She identifies as homosexual, so she kind of has to hide that part of herself while she’s at school, which starts bleeding into her romantic life.”

“Scissoring” retells history as it actually is, not as it often is — told by men. Elements of magical realism seep through the figments of Abigail’s imagination, exposing the censored affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock. Hansen believes this is an important relationship to educate the audience about.

“Many people don’t know that Eleanor Roosevelt had a long term lover [and] long term romantic relationship with a female journalist, and I’m so excited to share that story because it’s often just swept under the rug,” Hansen said. “Lorena Hickok was a journalist that eventually moved into the White House and had an adjoining room with Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Many of the cast and crew members resonate with the plotline and hope that the audience will relate to it too. Paige Blackwell PO ’22, the light designer of the show, reflected on how they connected with the play.

“This show feels very indicative of the way that I grew up and I definitely see myself in the main character,” they said. “The protagonist and I both find ourselves grappling with the two different sides of our identities.”

The play showcases a performance about how choices, commitment and courage conflict when two communities interact, but love prevails over all and thus bigotry is overpowered. The play is a true celebration of queerness.

“Come for a laugh, both awkward and humorous,” Doa said. “Come for some tears, both [of] sadness and joy — but most importantly, come for self-reflection.”

“Scissoring” will run from April 8-10 at the Allen Theatre. Tickets can be purchased from the Seaver Theatre box office or the show’s website.

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