It’s been about a week since I’ve seen The Serpent and I can still see the images of the ensemble throwing apples at the wall of the stage and the countdown to the Kennedy assassination. The Serpent, “a ceremony” written by Jean-Claude van Itallie and directed by visiting assistant professor of theatre Jeff Grace, was the theatre department’s final Main Stage production for the school year.
The program stated “the intent was not to discover and expose what happened when Eve bit the apple or how the first murder occurred, but to ask audiences to view the images of the play and assign their own meaning to human existence and the state of the world.”
The cast wore outfits consisting mainly of black and white colors, and they performed on a completely white stage with an opening for a door cut in the middle of the wall and a small opening near the edge of the stage to hold props. A white ladder leading all the way up the wall was on the right of the stage. Even as audience members walked into Studio Theatre, they had a feeling The Serpent was not going to be like any show they have ever seen as cast members interacted with them and ushered them in.
The Serpent is an example of postmodern theatre, and I have never before been witness to or envisioned a show which managed to use all five senses during its production. The ensemble performed a series of scenes meant to imprint the mind with fascinating and disturbing images so that individual members of the audience could make their own meaning of what was being presented to them. The acting of the cast was very well done and even though some scenes were absurd, they stayed in the moment and captured the audience in Itallie’s “ceremony. “
The Serpent, as its title might hint, involved the liberal use of apples. The serpent who tempted Eve to eat an apple was played by five members of the cast as they were undulating, standing on various positions of the ladder, each holding an apple, and speaking their lines at different times.
Soon after Eve ate a piece of the apple, scores of apples scattered across the stage and cast members ran offstage with the apples as loud music played. They darted through rows and aisles to tempt audience members with apples and handed them out with a hiss. After I took the apple, I thought about how I did the same thing Eve did. Most people would not think about what they would do if they were in Eve’s position, but as the experiment proves, most people would probably do the same. Some audience members also proceeded to eat the apple as they continued to watch the show.
One of the most memorable scenes was when images of war were projected onto the top half of the stage and cast members threw apples at the wall of the stage while yelling their lines. It really brought to mind the connection between Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and the downfall of humanity during times of war.
In addition to a depiction of Adam and Even, The Serpent also involved scenes featuring Cain and Abel. The third time Cain takes out the handgun, I could see evidence of the Pavlovian technique as audience members immediately put their hands to their ears in hopes of muffling the sound of a loud gunshot.
The last scene was moving as it featured a spotlight on sophomore Nellie Ognacevic in center stage surrounded by cast members each lying on various parts of the stage. Props used in the show—fragmented apples, toy soldiers, green note cards—littered the stage. Her countenance was forlorn as cast members got up one at a time and looked at her before leaving the stage. When she looked up from the ground and her eyes caught the light in that fleeting moment, there was an unspoken connection there, something inherently human.