Two short performances hit the studio theatre this weekend. The shows were brief, spanning about 45 minutes between them.
The first was a small excerpt from the 19th century realist play Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, directed by freshman Kelsey Ingle. Studio Theatre saw a two-scene snapshot of a baroque and sordid plot. Before each scene, the eponymous Hedda (played first by junior Maren Reisch, then sophomore Caroline Castro) gives a short monologue to explain the plot. In the scenes, Thea Elvsted (sophomore Alicia Valloriani) discusses with Hedda the misery of her loveless marriage. She expresses a desire to leave her husband for Eilert Lovborg (freshman David Thimmesch), with whom she has been working on an academic paper. Hedda discourages this, citing the social consequences of walking out on a marriage, but does not mention that she herself has a history with Lovborg, and is jealous of Thea’s relationship with him.
In the second scene, Lovborg tells Hedda and Thea (now played by sophomore Cindy Reiter) that he has shredded the manuscript he and Thea had written, which sends Thea running in near-suicidal despair. He reveals to Hedda that he actually lost the manuscript while out drinking, and only told Thea he’d destroyed it to make her hate him because he didn’t want to drag her into his spiral of debauchery. We know from Hedda’s previous monologue that she found the script and will not tell Thea because she wants them to break up.
The plot would have been compelling, but it’s difficult to invest in an excerpt. Thus, I found myself paying more attention to the actors themselves and the directions Ingle had given them. Despite the director’s avowed realist sentiment, I found myself enjoying more than anything the telling, ritualistic movements of the actors. Every rhythmic tilt of the shoulder and torque of the waist was chosen, isolated and practiced to a rare degree. This brought to Ibsen’s realism a stylized, almost Shakespearean tone, which contrasted with the subtle, mundane lines. This made me curious as to what a more physical play would look like under Ingle’s hand.
After the performance, I asked Ingle why she had chosen to direct two scenes of a long play rather than finding a shorter script. She said she had been set on a classic realist play, and that there were not any short plays in the realist movement. As a freshman, she could not yet put on a long performance. However, her directorial approach makes me hope that by the time she does, she will apply her affinity for the physical to classical theatre or another more heightened genre.
The second play was G. L. Horton’s “The Lost Prince of Paradise” a one-act mined from the playwright’s personal website (http://www.stagepage.info/index.html). Before the play, freshman director William Goehring revealed he had chosen the script because it explored “the changing male sex role and the changing male experience in today’s society.”
The play centers on Fuzzy (freshman Abe Zumwalt), a sexually frustrated nerd at a New Age retreat, and his attempt to seduce a masseuse named Maggie (senior Devyn Mares). Maggie rebukes Fuzzy constantly, but he remains bluntly persistent. Stumbling and stuttering through the encounter, Fuzzy frequently invokes his “bad eyesight” to explain his social ineptitude, even when he’s wearing his glasses and visual queues are not relevant. His eyesight becomes a metaphor for his inability to sense women’s signals of romantic interest (or lack thereof). In accordance with Goehring’s intent, one can read this as a depiction of arguments surrounding rape; men can sometimes push too hard and neglect what women want, but women can also be confusing and contradictory. Although Maggie is anything but subtle, she may as well be due to Fuzzy’s “poor eyesight.” Back in the audience, we see gender relations in absurd relief, showing us how ridiculous Fuzzy’s advances seem.
On the one hand the problem is on Fuzzy’s end, but on the other, when the conversation turns to discussion of Fuzzy’s issues, Maggie lacks understanding of common male problems:
FUZZY: If everything feels right, I think what I want is what she wants too. All systems go. Unless she yells or hits me or something. Then I stop. But by that time… (he droops in despair, his head on his hands)
MAGGIE: This is not a small mechanical problem. This is, like, majorly f—ked up. Majorly, from square one. You may have to go back and be re-birthed. (she massages his shoulders in comfort)
Thus, in their own ways, both genders prove oblivious to one another’s difficulties.
By the end of the play, we discover Fuzzy’s frustration is compounded by his unusual sexual success in high school. Although he was an unpopular nerd, he had weekly orgies with other outcasts in the photography and science clubs. His experience becomes a twisted Eden allegory. In this way, the play again highlights the transitional difficulties caused by changing gender roles: because in Fuzzy’s previous situation sex came so easily and was not shrouded in social interplay, he has trouble adapting to a more obscure and complex world. The play ends when Maggie gives Fuzzy a startlingly pat solution: see a prostitute. Fuzzy accepts with surprising enthusiasm. The lights go down. Apparently, the only problem with the new sexual order (at least for frustrated, maladjusted men) is all the pesky social interaction.
Goehring had a specific and passionate purpose in mind when he staged this play, and I think he succeeded. The play did not meet his promises of extreme vulgarity, at least compared with The Bacchae or Cloud 9, but its themes’ thorny implications may still provoke dialog as he desired.