Arts & Culture

Spring theater to provoke dialogue, innovate

Season to feature alum-written play along with well-known classics, dance festival

By
Arts & Culture Editor
Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Shakespeare meets Edward Hopper, a Roman slave chases the girl next door to win his freedom and a Chinese-American woman follows her brother into the underworld in this semester’s array of performances from the Department of Theater Arts and Performance Studies and student performance groups, forming a diverse lineup that mirrors some of the challenging conversations that students face every day on campus.

Sock and Buskin’s spotlight this year falls on a  version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” revamped by Jane Nichols, a member of the theater apprentice program faculty and lecturer in acting at the Yale School of Drama. In this rendition, a live jazz band playing 1930s chart-toppers will accompany the original Elizabethan script. “Twelfth Night” runs Feb. 26–March 1 and March 5-8 in the Stuart Theatre.

“Shakespeare’s plays are so universal, why not place them in a world I like the sound of?” Nichols said.

Edward Hopper’s painting of a classic white-faced, ruffed clown, called “Soir Bleu,” inspired the play’s aesthetic, Nichols said. In the painting, the clown sits isolated from the surrounding cafe, smoking a cigarette and shuffling a pack of cards.

The clown’s comedic isolation mirrors the feeling of being at the “edge of the party, holding your coffee when everyone’s having a good time except you,” said Paul Magrave, the publicity and box office coordinator for the TAPS department.

The title “Twelfth Night” refers to the last night of the twelve days of celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. The lively jazz music that penetrates the play reflects a celebration’s “buoyant spirit” and sense of community with others. But slower, more melancholic tones reveal the same loneliness that Hopper depicts in “Soir Bleu,” Nichols said.

Bright accents of color and sharp contrast cut through the play’s intentionally minimal stage set and black-and-white costume palette to create an unsettling atmosphere, Nichols said. The party’s environment “becomes mad.” This dramatic stage set also mirrors the “shimmering distinctions between light and dark” that define Hopper’s painting.

“Shakespeare was a humanist,” Nichols said. “His images resonate for all of us in all times.”

Sock and Buskin will also present “410: Gone,” written by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig ’05 and directed by Erik Ehn, professor and chair of the TAPS department, April 2-5 and 9-12 in the Leeds Theatre. The semi-autobiographical work started as Cowhig’s senior capstone project. The plot centers on a Chinese-American woman trying to come to terms with her brother’s suicide.

“410: Gone” combines opposites — the life and the afterlife — to investigate “what it means to let go of someone you love,” Margrave said. The piece examines both Western and Chinese death culture, taking its audience on an adventure through the afterlife. Despite the heavy subject matter of death, “410: Gone” is inherently a comedy, and a sense of joy runs through the piece, Margrave added. The “digital and analog world” also come together in the play, which treats the well-known arcade game Dance Dance Revolution as a metaphor for fulfilling a duty to the underworld.

Sock and Buskin will wrap up the semester with “Festival of Dance,” directed by Julie Strandberg, senior lecturer in TAPS. The production pulls together many different styles of dance, as well as students, professionals and performers from various states, Margrave said.

At Gilbert and Sullivan, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” explores works outside the classic playwrights’ domain. The play, directed by Paul Martino ’17 and music directed by Jeff Ball ’17, runs April 10-12. 

Though “Forum” is not a Gilbert and Sullivan play, its content remains faithful to the Gilbert and Sullivan style, said Emma Dickson ’16, president of Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan.

A classic Stephen Sondheim Broadway comedy, “Forum” follows a slave in ancient Rome whose master strikes a deal with him: If the slave can successfully seduce the girl living next door, he wins his freedom.

The play stays true to Gilbert and Sullivan’s subtle humor, adding a heightened physical dimension to the style through exaggerated masks and boisterous actions, Martino said. The challenges of directing the play lie in adapting the script to be more socially sensitive and tailoring it to be pertinent to a modern audience, he added.

Dickson said she looks forward to seeing BUGS tackle a more contemporary production, while retaining the hallmarks of Gilbert and Sullivan plays.

Meanwhile, on Young Orchard Avenue, Production Workshop plans to transform the downspace into “The House of Bernarda Alba” March 6-9. Federico García Lorca’s hour-long play, directed by Sam Keamy-Minor ’16, will focus on issues of gender and sexual orientation as well as the stigmas that accompany them, said Keston McMillan ’17. An art gallery installation will in turn take over the upspace, complementing themes of the production, McMillan added.

This season’s diverse spread of controversial topics creates a balanced season with wide appeal that reflects conversations buzzing throughout campus, Margrave said.

“Most of these pieces, at their heart, are tackling a difficult conflict or conversation,” he added. “They’re mechanisms for conversation and dialogue.”

A previous version of this article stated that “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was written before Shakespeare’s era. In fact, Director Paul Martino ’17 was applying a theatrical style from before Shakespeare’s era. The Herald regrets the error.