New work brings heart, humor to stage

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Washington, D.C. is ablaze. What, the U.S. Constitution is destroyed? Social unrest and rioting have broken out across the country, while democracy goes up in flames. Caroline Hamilton, Echo Theatre’s “Founders, Keepers” director asks, “What happens when five 11-year-old girls have to rewrite the constitution?” 

The cast of Echo Theatre’s “Founders, Keepers” rehearses for its Sept. 16 – Oct. 8 run of Aurora Behlke’s world premiere.
Photos by Robert G. McVay

A team of “Government People” has visited the homes of fifth-grade girls nationwide. The agents distributed a brochure outlining an assignment in which the young ladies were invited to participate — a social experiment. Their mission: “How would you rewrite the Constitution of the United States if given the opportunity?”

As Echo Theatre’s scribes see it: “Society has collapsed. In its wisdom, the U.S. Government has tasked five middle school girls with rewriting the Constitution for the new world.”

Aurora Behlke’s “Founders, Keepers,” playing at the Bath House Cultural Center through October 8, is winner of Echo Theatre’s 2021 Big Shout Out New Play Contest and is, in a word, a “trip.” 

The parents of five of those young girls from Washington, D.C. and other parts of the country agree to let their daughters go, so the young scholars are dropped off at a deserted D.C. school and instructed to complete the assignment in one week. 

Playing 11-year-old Winnie convincingly, Kristen Lazarchick noted, “As a female artist, it is refreshing to be working on material where the core relationships of the play are between female friends and [it] has nothing to do with ‘boys and stuff.’”

Five fifth-grade girls set out to write a new Constitution in an empty classroom at night while a “Mysterious Woman” keeps tabs on them.

Lazarchick is as extroverted, sensitive, affectionate (“Huggy”), optimistic and animated as called for in the role and then some. It’s as though the part was written for her.

“From the start, it is pretty clear that all Winnie really wants to do is make some friends, and the way in which she pursues her objective is beautiful and at times truly heartbreaking,” the actor continued. 

“She also, throughout the play encourages each of the girls to be the best versions of themselves. She is an advocate of being yourself and [of] your fellow (wo)man. I want to grow up and be more like Winnie.” 

Tabitha, the “diverse” team member, is all about leadership. Played by Rickeya Jones with authenticity, the preoccupation all but consumes her. She’s tormented by her inability to maintain the group’s support, and the actor’s professional theatre debut reveals it convincingly. 

According to Kateri Cale, Echo Theatre’s managing and artistic director, Jones is appearing in her first professional play as Tabitha, the girl who hides her true self to be the “perfect girl” in charge. “We’re thrilled to welcome her to the Echo family of creatives,” Cale said.

As best friends from their hometown, Tabitha and Gillian, who is played charmingly by Lauren Floyd as a vulnerable preadolescent, experience a strained relationship when dropped into the mix of other girls. Gillian’s preoccupation with a zit on her forehead is only the beginning of unbridled chit-chat among the girls of menstrual cycles and related feminine hygiene products. Tabitha to Gillian, “Your zit looks better.” Gillian retorts, “Can we please quit talking about my zit?”

Lazarchick’s Winnie is animated when learning that her new friend Gillian went “straight up” to a tampon. Cale commented about Lazarchick’s performance, “As Winnie, the sweet but ‘nerdy girl,’ she provides much of the comic relief. Her performance is delightful.”

Caitlin Chapa’s Nicole tells her friend while feuding, “I’m mad at you but I’m not going to destroy my lungs because of it.” Chapa was last enjoyed as Alice Paul in Echo’s premiere of the delightful “It’s My Party!” For this show, she’s transformed herself into the “popular girl” Nicole. She’s mean and detached.

Hadley Shipley playing Imogen has served as Echo’s house manager and stage manager. She is also a playwright. Now, as Imogen, the “artistic one,” she is socially awkward and confesses anguish about her mother’s death. 

Ariel Kregal designed costumes that reflect the tastes and whimsey of five high-energy, bubbly, fifth-grade girls. From the retro-tiled school restroom to the words-of-wisdom posters on the classroom walls, the set is realistically detailed by scenic designer Clare DeVries. Landry Strickland’s lighting design reveals a backdrop of an ominous, orange-hued evening sky surrounding the flaming capital, and then dramatic pink mornings, all seen through the classroom’s windows. 

While the new “Founders” are confined to the isolated school building, they methodically spread out their sleeping bags on the floor each night, folding and putting them away in the morning. Most nights, some of the restless girls are up and down with preoccupation of finishing their assignment when they can’t seem to get it started.

Appearing as both a bizarre, “Mysterious Woman” and a strange “lady from the government,” Allyn Carrell is gifted at both the strange and bizarre, while ever so amusing. Known for short films Alternative Math (2017), Ghost Note (2017) and Prison Break (2005), Carrell was the 2018 Southern Shorts Awards Best Actress winner for the film, “Alternate Math.” She has been nominated for another four indies and festivals. She has also appeared in television. Locally, Carrell has performed on stages including Uptown Players, WaterTower Theatre and more.

Naïve while smart. Impetuous although sensible. Youthful with old souls.

Washington, D.C. is on fire, and these five young women are up to a hefty challenge. As they struggle with grief, power and what it means to grow up in a broken democracy, alliances form and then shatter in the slightly dark play. 

Each member of the ensemble cast is strong, with no overtly weak links. An inventive story line, cleverly written script, talented ensemble and effective production team are fused into an entertaining, thought-provoking, piece of storytelling in “Founders, Keepers.” 

Lazarchick concluded: “‘Founders, Keepers’ examines the importance of our constitution and asks who it really represents, all through the lens of five young girls. And the heart and humor of this new work will leave you hopeful for a brighter tomorrow.”

“Founders, Keepers” continues at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Dr, 75218 through October 8. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit