Arts & Culture

Fall theater lineup explores nuances of human connection

Student, faculty production companies stage complex narratives of love, identity

Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2015

Love is in the air and on the stage this fall, as Sock and Buskin, Production Workshop and Shakespeare on the Green prepare plays that navigate the timeless complications of familial and romantic relationships.

Though love characterizes most of the fall season, individual plays explore specific facets of human interaction, particularly personal identity and community.

Production Workshop will produce “Crimes of the Heart,” directed by Ellie Gravitte ’17, and “Marat/Sade,” directed by Andrew Colpitts ’16.

“Crimes of the Heart,” written by Beth Henley, won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1981 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1982. The play features three sisters who convene at a family home in Mississippi after one of the sisters shoots her abusive husband.

The play, which debuts in the PW Upspace this weekend, examines “the redeeming power of love in a family” and “the human need to talk about your lives with other people,” Gravitte said.

Gravitte stressed the importance of the play’s focus on women and their “dynamic” interactions with men. The play is set entirely within a kitchen, representing a traditional space of domesticity where men “function as the outside world coming in,” she said.

“Watching the women respond to the different dynamics the men bring into the room is always really interesting, and sometimes really fun, and sometimes really sexy,” she added.

Inspired by director Elia Kazan, who said, “Every picture is successful that has one little miracle in it,” Gravitte said that above all, she hopes to focus on small, everyday interactions between people and make them into “mini miracles.”

A floor below Gravitte in the PW Downspace, Colpitts spearheads the production of “Marat/Sade,” a complex play within a play. Set in a 19th century insane asylum outside Paris, the Marquis de Sade directs fellow inmates in a play recounting the assassination of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.

The show explores a different facet of human connection, focusing on the suffering and oppression of society’s “undesirables,” such as revolutionaries, criminals or individuals with learning disabilities locked away by the bourgeoisie.

Colpitts said one of the most important aspects of the show is the notion of change, or lack thereof. While the play concerns the frustrating social stagnancy after the French Revolution, Colpitts said he sees “perfect resonance nowadays,” with upper classes maintaining a disproportionate influence on society.

A history of 19th-century prison culture also informs the set, which will include cage-like barriers separating the audience from the inmates.

“It’s to underscore elements of voyeurism, in the way that we even nowadays look at social movements from a privileged and protected space,” Colpitts said. “When we look at wars, we look at them through news. We have distance from it.”

Colpitts said he hopes the audience will reflect deeply on the themes, quoting Marat’s line: “The important thing is to pull yourself up by your own hair, to turn yourself inside out and see the whole world with fresh eyes.”

This reflection is further enforced by Sock and Buskin’s fall lineup. “Red Paint,” written and directed by Nikteha Salazar ’16, is a surrealist exploration of the contemporary Mexican-American identity in the United States.

Salazar said the play focuses on a father and a daughter “seeking love and understanding from one another while also trying to understand their collective past.”

The play borrows from Salazar’s relationship with her father, a former professor with a background in Native American and Mexican studies. It also draws on her experiences growing up with a mixed ethnic background, as her mother has Russian and Jewish heritage.

In addition, the show explores the cycles of institutional, racial, personal and domestic violence that are “so pervasive within the Latino communities, specifically the Chicano and Mexican-American communities,” Salazar said.

But Salazar does not consider the play strictly autobiographical. “I think that all works that anyone writes have to be somewhat autobiographical,” she said. “It’s inspired by my life. It’s definitely not a biography of my life.”

The play’s surrealist elements ultimately remove the show from stark reality, she said. Features include live flowers, characters called Choke and Spit that take after Tweedledee and Tweedledum and a set full of sand and overgrowth, “like a crazy garden,” meant to symbolize a verdant threshold to the American Dream.

The Sock and Buskin season also includes shows directed by faculty members in the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. Laura Rikard, visiting assistant professor of TAPS, will direct “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, while Kym Moore, associate professor of TAPS, will direct “The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry,” written by Marcus Gardley, assistant professor of TAPS.

Amidst the theater season’s explorations of familial, political and ethnic identities, “The Seagull” attends to the identity of the artist.

Rikard said the show, which will debut in Leeds Theatre, is a particularly great piece “when you work in education … because it comments so much on the endurance of being a theater artist, and on being a writer.”

Rikard drew on the imagery of the seagull to describe the play’s overall theme. “If an artist flies and goes out into the world and leaves the lake, it will be hard, and it’s not easy to succeed,” she said. “But the more you work in your craft, the more you fail in your craft, the more you keep trying, the more your craft can get you through anything.”

Despite the timelessness of the play’s themes, Rikard said she decided to maintain 19th-century style and costume.

“Especially when it comes to Chekhov, the audience has to come to the table and be ready to eat,” she said. “It is a strongly intellectual piece of theater, but it’s also a guttural, very heartfelt piece.”

In the Stuart Theatre next door, Kym Moore has been working on a play based on the history of the Black Seminoles in Oklahoma.

Moore said while we often talk about diversity, our discussions are frequently limited to black and white dualities or black, white and Latino groupings, with some incorporation of Asian identities and rare inclusions of a Native American narrative. Providence has a substantial population of diverse Native Americans, “and we know nothing about them, and they’re right here,” she said.

Moore spotlights two men, one a freeman and the other a “full-blood Seminole,” who fall in love but choose not to pursue a relationship due to their cultures and locations. The “destructiveness” of not substantiating this love curses the whole town and causes the well to run dry, Moore said. And thus the show becomes a mythic, romantic and Western “Romeo and Juliet,” complete with cowboys and horses, Moore said. “It’s epic drama.”

Finally, Shakespeare on the Green will produce an original show that challenges the tropes of queer love.

Luke Denton ’17 directs “Comfort and Despair,” a piece devised working from Shakespeare’s sonnets.

“We’re taking the narrative flow and the themes presented in the sonnets, and we’ll be creating a new story from that,” Denton said, adding that the play will be a contemporary realization of that narrative in contemporary English.

Though the script is still in development, Denton said the plot currently involves a twisted love quadrangle in which a gender-nondescript character falls in love with a young man, who falls in love with “the Dark Lady,” who in turn enters a “strange sexual relationship” with the Poet.

Denton said his main goal is to figure out “how to tell a queer romance in the modern storytelling.” “If you trace the history of queer presentations in media, you see a lot of coming-out narratives, which become a lot of romance narratives tainted by this cultural acceptance element,” he said.

Denton said he wants his audience to walk away having seen a romance in and of itself and to view this love as timeless rather than one riddled with stereotypes.

Evoking Marat’s instruction to turn oneself inside out and to see the world through new eyes, the fall season encourages audiences to pay attention to themselves and those around them, to share the stories that haven’t been told and to challenge the ones that have.

At PW, “Crimes of the Heart” runs Sept. 25-28 and “Marat/Sade” runs Oct. 16-19. From Sock and Buskin, “The Seagull” runs Oct. 1-4 and Oct. 8-11, “The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry” runs Nov. 5-8 and Nov. 12-15 and “Red Paint” runs Dec. 3-6. From Shakespeare on the Green, “Comfort and Despair” runs Oct. 23-25.


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