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At the beginning of “The Light in the Piazza,” Clara Johnson sweeps onto a piazza lit with golden sunshine, singing sweetly about the wonders of Florence, Italy and being on vacation with her mother. Everything changes when a gust of wind sends her hat flying into the hands of a handsome young Florentine, Fabrizio. We go on a journey as she and her mother discover some difficult truths about finding love, letting go, moving on.

Suzanne Reese-Mills, in her AFD debut, brings intelligence and depth to the Southern belle who is more than she appears. As she notes, “Clara has exceeded my expectations. She’s not who I thought she was.”

Clara is a lovely young woman who’s intellectually delayed, but has a depth of emotional sensitivity and passion that emerges throughout the play. Suzanne notes, “There’s so much more to her than I thought there was when I auditioned. I made the actor’s mistake of thinking this was a straightforward damsel sweet role, but she’s much more complex.”

As her mother continues to insulate her from the dangers of the world, “She feels underestimated and protected when she doesn’t want to be protected. She’s indignant that she’s being treated with kid gloves.”

Suzanne received her MFA in Musical Theater from Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she played Nadine in Michael John LaChiusa’s "The Wild Party," Odysseus in Atwood’s "The Penelopiad," and co-wrote and performed "Hysterical," a cabaret.

Other favorite roles include Cathy in "The Last Five Years," Olive in "25th Annual...Spelling Bee," Liesl in "The Sound of Music," and Éponine in "Les Misérables." Suzanne also works as a dialect coach, having collaborated most recently on "Billy Elliot," "The Yeomen of the Guard," and "Ragtime."

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