Estrella Burks-Parra shines in The Dramatic Circle: first live play since 2019

Burks-Parra waited three years to perform in-person


The play was the first live show at Keller Theater since 2019. Photo by Emma Malinak, ’25.

Emma Malinak

On Dec. 2, Keller Theater hosted its first in-person play since 2019 with a performance of “The Dramatic Circle.”

“This was my first time doing a show in the big theater with a full audience,” said Estrella Burks-Parra, ’23, a theater and politics double major. “That was very exciting and rewarding.”

When she was a first-year student, Burks-Parra’s Washington and Lee acting debut was canceled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. During her sophomore year, Burks-Parra performed in three virtual productions that were pre-filmed without a live audience. Now, as a junior, she is overjoyed to be playing the main character, Suzanne Alexander, in an in-person performance. 

“The Dramatic Circle” is a historical fiction set in 1961 that follows the story of Suzanne Alexander, a writer and professor, who anxiously awaits word from her husband, David, who disappeared while working in western Africa.

David had been conducting research in order to write the biography of Franz Fanon, a psychoanalyst and social philosopher known for his multidisciplinary analysis of the effect of colonialism on racial consciousness, when he mysteriously went missing.

In an attempt to shield Suzanne from the unrest in Africa and protect the health of her baby, Suzanne is sent to London to rest until word from David is retrieved. 

The plot unfolds as Suzanne and her sister-in-law, Alice, participate in a literary circle in an attempt to ease Suzanne’s mind and distract her from the unknown fate of her husband. 

But, Suzanne’s hysteria grows throughout the performance. Having fits of visions, sleep-walking, and uncontrollable anxiety, Suzanne gradually loses her grasp of reality as days pass without any news of David’s whereabouts. 

Burks-Parra said she’s “never played a role like Suzanne,” and is proud of her personal victory of staying in character throughout Suzanne’s moments of extreme panic.

Suzanne’s flashbacks and dreams weave many historical texts into the play, such as love letters between Josephine and Napoleon and a Birago Diop poem about colonialism, which all represent the themes of separation and distress.

“I am drawn to the examination of cycles as they show up in the history, the literature and the relationships in this play. How much of what we’re experiencing now has happened before?” said Nafeesa Monroe, actress, spoken word artist, writer and acting coach, who directed “The Dramatic Circle” at Washington and Lee.

These patterns of grief and distress that cross historical and cultural boundaries were eloquently illustrated by Adrienne Kennedy, writer of “The Dramatic Circle,” who lived in Africa, Italy and London at various times in her life and could use those experiences to connect many points of view through one narrative.

“Kennedy’s plays, more than anything, are an experience, both for the artists and the audience,” Monroe wrote in “The Dramatic Circle” program.

A play of this depth and difficulty required much hard work to prepare. Students rehearsed for three hours a day, five days a week leading up to the opening performance.

Burks-Parra commented on the “great dynamic” in the cast that consisted of varying ages and experience levels, and she stated that she enjoyed being a mentor for those making their debut. 

Two first-year students made their Washington and Lee acting debut as main characters in “The Dramatic Circle.” Jorge Alberto Gomez, ’25, played David Alexander, and Ana S. Montano Martinez, ’25,  played Alice Alexander, David’s sister. 

Other members of the cast include Lea Borner, ’22, who played Dr. Freudenberger, the leader of the literary circle, and Christopher Isaiah Curtis, ’22, who portrayed Frantz Fanon. Holden Overbeck, ’24, Lela Casey, ’25 and Alec Sirois, ’25, comprised the rest of the ensemble.

Burks-Parra said she was pleased with the number of students exploring theater for the first time. 

“I’ve always thought that theater is something everyone should do at least once,” she said. “There are so many skills you can learn from it. Now’s the time to explore and try new things.”

If you missed the performance of “The Dramatic Circle,” the university’s performing arts department has a busy 2022 season planned. The Lenfest Center for the Arts will be hosting “Thumbelina” on Feb. 12, “All Shook Up” from March 31 to April 2, and “The Moors” from May 17 to 19.