The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | Eli Campbell’s ‘Pleasure Play’ tells captivating story of three complicated characters

On Nov. 10-18, University of Iowa MFA student Eli Campbell brought their newest work, ‘Pleasure Play,’ to Dreamwell Theatre to tell a story about what it means to love someone.
Jordan Barry
Emma Bibb, Owen Brightman and Mary Lukas perform during a showing of Eli Campbell’s Pleasure Play directed by Meredith Alexander at The Artifactory on North Dubuque Street in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

The past two weekends, the Iowa City community was given the chance to experience Eli Campbell’s newest work, “Pleasure Play,” which follows the lives of Meave and Gracie, a couple trying to deal with their personal issues while their new house is literally falling apart.

I had the opportunity to see “Pleasure Play” during its closing performance on Nov. 18 at Dreamwell Theatre. Throughout the entire performance, I found myself thoroughly engaged and genuinely wondered how the characters would resolve the main conflict of the story.

The show begins by introducing the audience to Meave, played by Owen Brightman, and their partner, Gracie, played by Emma Bibb. The two are trying to patch a hole in their new ceiling — which initially seems like a typical dilemma.

The story is further complicated with the introduction of Abby, Meave’s mother, who has been absent from their life for the past ten years. Abby, played by Mary Lukas, materializes at Meave’s work, desperately hoping to reconnect with the child she wronged.

Throughout the rest of the play, Meave is conflicted over whether or not to let Abby back into their life, especially after Abby has seemingly changed and become more accepting of who they are.

I found the relationship between Meave and Abby to be incredibly authentic. Meave understandably felt abandoned by their family and desperately wanted a loving parental figure.

Abby and Meave seemed to want to get to know one another better but weren’t sure how to explore their feelings after ten years of no contact. On some level, they still loved each other, but that love was complicated and there was no easy way to fix the rift between them.

Gracie, on the other hand, wasn’t supportive of Abby at all. She was an incredibly sympathetic character, and it was clear that she truly cared for Meave, having played an active role in Meave’s life for so long.

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Gracie was probably my personal favorite character in the show. While there were points in the story where she could have been more understanding, she was overall a loving person with valid arguments about why Abby shouldn’t be accepted so easily.

As a couple, Meave and Gracie were funny and entertaining. They began the play by creating an elaborate role-playing story featuring an alien who has been living in the hole in their ceiling. At first, the alien’s antics were only confined to the intimate moments between the couple.

Later, though, the show hinted at something more sinister as the alien’s noises were heard while Abby was onstage. Campbell left up to interpretation what the alien was doing, which I thought was a compelling and effective choice. Long after viewing the play, I was analyzing scenes in my head and trying to figure out what everything meant.

“Pleasure Play” was a comedic and heartfelt exploration of love, life, and what it means to be in a relationship.

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About the Contributor
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.