“Lily” is a powerful play set at the intersection of love and hate

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Scene from Christopher Daftsios'
Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

Christopher Daftsios’ Lily, a new and powerful play about the powers of love and hate

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"
Scene from Christopher Daftsios’ “Lily”

The New Jersey Repertory Company closes out their 2019 season with the world premiere of Christopher Daftsios’ Lily, a new and powerful play about the powers of love and hate, repentance, and revenge. It is a play with more emotional honesty in its first five minutes than in the whole of some other plays. It is a play that must be experienced.

Lily takes place in a dressing room backstage at a concert arena in present-day Omaha, Nebraska. Country star Toby Crenshaw (Christopher Daftsios) has just finished a performance and is getting ready to receive a selection of groupies who have come backstage to meet him. Toby has just refused to meet with the town’s mayor as well as refused to perform a contractual obligation encore to his show and has dispatched his manager Sam (Tait Ruppert) to handle the messy details. Tour assistant Tommy (Adam von Pier) lets in the first visitor, 18-year-old Haley (Joy Donze). After engaging in some unusual verbal foreplay, Toby and Haley have sex. Afterward, sensing he’s seen Haley before, Toby asks why she looks familiar. It is then that Haley drops a bombshell about her parentage that sends the play off on a wild ride through fields of memory, sex, booze, money, and revenge.

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"
Scene from Christopher Daftsios’ “Lily”

Director Sarah Norris mines the depths of emotion in this play, the first full-length play by playwright Daftsios, and is rewarded by highly charged performances from her actors. Christopher Daftsios’ Toby is a man riding on his reputation, his best years behind him yet still able to keep the attention of streams of groupies with whom he can satisfy his needs for strong liquor and oh-so-available women. Tait Ruppert, as Sam has the thankless job of portraying a man who willingly gave up his own dreams to promote those of another artist, finding out he’s not as appreciated for his fixer’s role as he expects. Joy Donze portrays the many moods of Haley with laser precision: now coy, now bold, sweet, and tart, but always strong-willed and single-minded in her pursuits. Finally, Adam von Pier makes a sensational professional debut as Tommy, so easy to pigeonhole as a redneck right-hand-man but with unexpected layers under his stoic, polite exterior. NJ Repertory’s regular design team—scenic designer Jessica Parks, lighting designer Jill Nagle, sound designer Merek Royce Press, and costume designer Patricia E. Doherty—outshine their past efforts with unbelievable ease and perfect taste. Special credit goes to Brad Lemons as the fight/intimacy director for this production.

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"
Scene from Christopher Daftsios’ “Lily”

Lily is a first-rate drama with plenty of touches of comedy. It deals with adult topics and uses adult language, but always in the furtherance of making and expressing the emotional connections inherent in this fine piece of writing. I strongly recommend you see this outstanding production before its all-too-short run ends. If you seek serious, well-written drama, you need to take a trip to Long Branch and the New Jersey Repertory Company to see Lily.

Lily is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through November 24, 2019. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org.