This week, justArts spoke with Gabi Nail ’18, who played Jeannie in The Brandeis Theater Department’s production of “Leveling Up.”

justArts: Can you give me some background on your character, Jeannie, as you view her?

Gabi Nail: Going into the show, there were a lot of strong feelings about Jeannie, myself included. I definitely read her a kind of passive, powerless female character, and I thought, “that sucks.” I read a response about her after the show, and a lot of what was brought up was what I initially thought of Jeannie. Then I did some more thinking and I was like, “you know, I don’t really want to play her that way. I don’t like thinking of her that way. And I have to believe that the playwright, who is a woman, would not choose to make the only female character in her show powerless.” I started finding a lot of connections between [Jeannie] and myself; she reminded me a lot of myself in high school. I don’t like the idea of thinking of myself in high school as weak, either. So, I decided I was going to find things in her. I started getting very interested in her love for helping people. She is a very observant person and she is the only person in the show who is able to think beyond herself and to survey what is around her. I struggled with why she forgives Ian at the end and I came to think that she is so aware of his humanity because he is the only person she has really connected with throughout the whole show. She is able to identify that that violence she displayed was not him but the outside forces of the NSA and video-games and the pressures of this culture that made him act in this way. She still believes that there is hope for him, and I thought that was really beautiful.

JA: What was it like being the only female character in the show and what was it like being in such a small cast, generally?

GN: It was fun. In the rehearsal the assistant stage manager and the manager and the assistant director were all female, so it wasn’t like I was the only girl in the room. I’m similar to Jeannie in that I like observing people. I think the people I was cast with were very interesting people and their characters were interesting; I didn’t at any point feel left out.

JA: What was the most fulfilling part of playing her?

GN: One, I’m just happy I survived all those quick changes! It was also fun for me to grapple with what I see as a very complex character who, throughout the show, does not always necessarily say what she is thinking, because she is not always listened to. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing there. She turned out to be just as meaty, if not more deep, than other characters I’ve played, because there are so many women like Jeannie out there. I don’t think many women who label themselves as feminists, which I do, would necessarily label these women as strong or empowered, and I kind of think that is doing them a disservice. I think Jeannie is a perfect case where you find power and strength in a form that doesn’t necessarily seem to have that, except at the end of the show she wins. She gets these guys out of the basement and to do something with their lives.