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Now playing The Seagull’s Paulina, actor Danica Murray no longer sweats the small stuff


Danica Murray is appearing this weekend in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in the FSW Black Box Theatre. She plays a 40-something mother by the name of Paulina Andryevna. She’s married to the custodian of the Sorin Estate, a lakeside Russian cottage. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she longs for the attention of a local doctor (played by Jorge Cabal), but he’s a distant and aloof ladies’ man who callously toys with her affections. Paulina sees her own misery in her daughter, Masha, who has similarly settled for a dissatisfying and compromising marriage rather than hold out for the love of the man she truly desires.

The Seagull is a meaningful production for Murray for a couple of reasons.

“My mother is a Russian immigrant,” Danica shares.

She not only has family in Russia, she honors her Russian heritage. In fact, she was fluent in Russian as a small child, although she’s lost most of those language skills now.

And in portraying Paulina Andryevna, Danica has drawn upon her Russian roots and heritage.

“Much of Russian culture is about feeling as opposed to language. It’s more about the energy in the room – the energy you’re exchanging with others,” Danica notes. “Russians are typically conservative in what they say, but big on the energy they’re giving off – the implied meaning behind what they’re saying.

Murray says that Russian people possess a warmth that would surprise most Americans.

“They’re incredibly open, big-hearted people. They have massive hearts and souls. They carry just as much emotion as Americans, Latinos or Italians. It’s just that there’s a difference in how they express and show it. Because they internalize so much, when it does come out, it’s so much bigger than anyone could expect!”

This manifests itself in The Seagull, which depicts love and loss, joy and tragedy.

“It’s simple in structure but the ideas that are expressed and the emotions displayed are very big.”

But in addition to its web of relationships, Murray hopes audiences pick up the classical realism that Chekhov insinuates into the fabric of the play.

“Realism is difficult in theater to begin with, but even more so for young actors. So we’d really like to share that with the audience.”

The second reason that The Seagull is meaningful for Murray is because just a few short months ago, it appeared that Danica might not survive, never lone appear in another stage play.

She’d been cast in the plum role of Barblin in Andorra by Lab Theater Artistic Director Annette Trossbach. She was so excited to land the role that she shaved all of her hair off for the drama’s penultimate scene.

But in the final weeks leading up to Andorra’s opening, her health took a turn for the worse. Born with cystic fibrosis, her fluid-filled lungs required several brief stints in the hospital.

“Steven Coe [who played her half-brother Andri] could not have been more kind or incredible,” Danica effuses. “ He would visit me in the hospital and run lines with me.”

And for several days, it seem like her health crisis had passed.

But her condition worsened and try as she might, she just couldn’t continue. On the eve of the play’s second weekend, she landed back in the ER. When it became clear she wouldn’t be able to go on with the show in spite of her iron resolve, her first thought was to arrange for a replacement so that her on-stage family wouldn’t be left in a bind.

“I text Eren Sisk,” Danica recounts. “She is just amazing. She took on my role just hours before she was supposed to go on. She told me not to worry. ‘I’ve got you covered; just get healthy,’ she text me. I could not believe how incredible she was.”

As Andorra retook the stage, Danica was transported to Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville. Her lungs had deteriorated so much that she almost didn’t survive the trip.

When she arrived at Shands, she was given a tracheotomy and placed at the top of the transplant list.

Realizing that her situation was totally out of her control, she adopted a fatalistic attitude. “Either they’ll find a pair of lungs or I’ll die and that will be the end of that,” she shrugged.

But within a matter of days, she received a brand new pair of lungs. But in the course of navigating the ordeal, she experienced emotions that few people experience “and no 18-year-old girl should have to” – fear, dread, resignation, joy and immense appreciation. Perhaps one day, Danica’s experiences will be made into a feature film like Once Upon a Christmas Miracle (starring Aimee Teegarden and Brett Dalton), which is based upon the true story of Heather Krueger, a nursing student who needed a liver transplant to live, and Chris Dempsey, the live donor who saved her life and ended up falling in love with her. If it is, Danica can play herself!

Besides the obvious – being able to suck air into all of her lungs for the first time in her life and walk without becoming winded – Danica’s near-death experiences have changed her in a number of profound ways.

“I wake up each morning with a strong sense gratitude and joy,” Danica relates. “It’s a joy to be breathing, spending time with my family and surrounded by incredible people who I love.”

But it’s also given her inner courage that she never knew she possessed.

“I’m no longer concerned about the little things.”

Like criticism, cast tension or an impending audition.

“Mistakes and difficulties I encounter now are so inconsequential compared to what I’ve been through.”

Post-surgery, Danica doesn’t sweat the small stuff and pretty much everything is small stuff in comparison to what she’s endured.

“Which isn’t to say that I don’t have issues and obstacles, or that I don’t care,” Danica hastens to append. “But now I have this incredible perspective. There’s little point in worrying about things I can’t control. Perhaps it’s not a thought that an 18 year old girl should have,” she says again. But there it is.

Health insurance is one matter that falls squarely outside of the definition of small stuff. Right now, she’s on her parents’ health policy. But unless universal health care is enacted within the next several years, there will come a day when she has to get her own policy, and that realization has caused her to switch majors from Theater to Communications.

“I still plan to do theater and perform as much as I can,” she says brightly. “I also got to write for [FSW Professor] Stuart [Brown] a little bit last semester, and I’m part of the Bulletproof Backpack playwriting project at the Rep.” From the creative minds of Florida Rep Education Director Kody C. Jones and New York playwright Eric Coble, Bulletproof Backpack is comprised of two separate programs that hinge together in a student-driven creation of not only a world premiere theatrical production, but a social justice project for participating students, schools and the local community. In this regard, Danica and other Southwest Florida youths are researching, interviewing and exploring that past atrocities of gun violence in order to investigate, inspire and unite with a view to starting conversations for the future and provoking insightful thought for change.

She is also the stage manager for Seagull, adding to her theatrical skill set and resume.

A year ago, the dual enrollment high school senior/first year junior collegiate had her eye on USF. Now she deems it best to remain closer to home. So she’ll be transferring to FGCU to obtain her four-year degree.

However, that’s a stroke of luck for local theater-goers.

“I’ll keep performing,” Danica says optimistically. “FGCU holds open auditions, plus I’m still in contact with the Rep.”

And she’ll always have a soft spot for Lab Theater.

“They’ll always hold a special place in my heart, especially Annette.” Trossbach orchestrated a fundraiser to help Danica and her family with the expenses of staying in Gainesville before, during and following her transplant surgery.

“And all my [Andorra] cast mates have been so supportive. They’re warm, big-hearted people. They’re a special bunch for sure.”

Ditto, Danica Murray.

Breathe easy

Like your Russian relatives, you’re a warm, big-hearted young woman who for the first time has two new healthy lungs.

November 14, 2019.



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