Prize-Winning Student Playwright Melds Academic and Extracurricular Passions

When Solomon Hess ’24 was 9 years old, his father tried to get him interested in playing lacrosse in a youth program in his hometown of Brewster, NY. At first, Hess said, he was resistant to the idea of playing a sport he knew nothing about. Then he took part in his first game with his new team. “We lost by something like 12-2, but I came home raving to my dad about lacrosse,” Hess recalled. 

Playwright Solomon Hess ’24
Photo: Karl Rabe

As he learned more about the origins of the game and its connection to Native American culture, Hess’s fondness for lacrosse blossomed into reverence. He said he was especially honored to play some games on Native reservations as a member of the U.S. National Junior Indoor Team. “I became enthralled with the long history of the game,” Hess said. “Lacrosse has played a big part in the culture of Native nations in the United States and Canada for hundreds of years.”

Now a film and drama double major at Vassar and a co-captain of the men’s lacrosse team, Hess has melded his academic and extracurricular passions by writing a play that celebrates the game’s origins. The play, titled simply The Game, won Vassar’s annual Marilyn Swartz Seven ’69 Annual Playwriting Award last year, and its first public reading was performed on January 26 and 27 as part of MODfest, Vassar’s annual celebration of the arts. The professional cast included two Indigenous actors, and the performance was overseen by a professional director, Mauricio Miranda, a native of Peru.

Mauricio Miranda (left) director of The Game, with the playwright.
Photo: Karl Rabe

The play chronicles the conflicting emotions a White lacrosse coach endures as he considers writing a play that celebrates another culture. As the play unfolds, he asks himself repeatedly if he, a White man, is worthy of writing a play about the origins of lacrosse in order to bring the sport into mainstream culture.

Miranda said he and Hess and the cast had reworked some of the scenes during their week of rehearsals. “The play is about telling stories, and who gets to tell them,” he said. “Here is a student-athlete writing about a topic you don’t see very often in the theater, and it came to life with every draft we worked on.”

The readings of The Game were performed before near-capacity audiences in the Powerhouse Theater, and Hess said he was encouraged and empowered by the feedback he received from many in the audience. “Playwriting is more like sculpting than painting,” he said, “because you’re not just adding bits to a scene, you’re also subtracting. I could feel the play growing as we reworked some of the scenes, and hearing positive feedback was validating.”

Indigenous cast members Bradley Lewis and Jasmine Rochelle Goodspeed.
Photo: Quin Taylor ’27

Assistant Professor of Drama Peter Gil-Sheridan, who read Hess’s first version of the play in his playwriting class in the fall of 2022, encouraged his student to pursue a path to eventual production by a theater company. “Solomon thought it was tricky as a White writer to invade a space that was maybe more appropriate for an Indigenous writer,” Gil-Sheridan said, “but I told him I’m all about playwrights writing outside their own experience and across identities, and it was courageous for him to do so.”

The Game cast, left to right: Denise Summerford, Levi Sreblaus ’26, Sam Geesing, Bradley Lewis, Jasmine Rochelle Goodspeed, and John Summerford, with playwright Solomon Hess ’24 and Director Mauricio Miranda
Photo: Quin Taylor ’27

Hess said he realized the next step in creating The Game would be the hardest:  convincing a theater company to bring it to the stage. But whatever happens next, he said he was enjoying the process. “A lot of the feedback I got from the performance at MODfest was people telling me the play not only made them think while they were watching it but realizing they needed to continue to think more about it when it was over,” Hess said. “For me, that was the most rewarding part of the experience.”

February 19, 2024