As national midterm elections approach, divisive communication between political parties is increasingly prevalent across American society; the first mainstage theater production of the year addresses the instances through which relations of all types become tainted. The play “Before Sunrise” was written in German by Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer. Professor of Theatre and director Neil Blackadder decided to translate the show for Knox students to perform, much to the delight of Palmetshofer. Although Palmetshofer was influenced by the nature of European politics in his writings, he believes the themes of his play are also applicable to political divisions forming within the United States.
“[Intensification of political rhetoric and a division between political camps] has poisoned communication among people holding divergent positions, threatening to make it impossible … Beyond all political gulfs, there’s a common humanity that unites us,” Palmetshofer wrote in a message to the theatre department. “That shared humanity seems to me to be profoundly imperiled today. It’s vital that we fight for its protection.”
The show displays relational dynamics between family, lovers and old friends. Thomas Hoffman, portrayed by junior Riley Nelson, has found success in helping to run his alcoholic father-in-law’s business and empowering individuals with privilege to be self-made. This warrants Alfred Loth, portrayed by sophomore John Harden, to seek Hoffman out. While both characters used to be college roommates with similarly ambitious viewpoints, Loth has drifted toward the left in his career as a journalist while Hoffman has drifted toward the right. Blackadder found the play applicable for a college community as it demonstrates how the perspectives of two like-minded friends evolved after leaving university.
“The main conflict is between two characters who knew each other when they were students, and they meet up again 12 years later. For all the students here it’s interesting to think, where will you be in a decade or more? Will you have made compromises for financial success and material comfort, or will you have stuck to your principles?” Blackadder said. “Especially at a place like Knox where there are a lot of students who are interested in activism [and such], I hope that those issues will resonate with students.”
The family is additionally a source of varied squabbles. The main conflict between the old comrades, much akin to an archetypal realist versus idealist conflict, is eloquently juxtaposed to marital relations between both Hoffman and his wife Martha Krause, portrayed by freshman Meg Tucker, and relations between Martha’s father and stepmother, portrayed by sophomore Adam Rothkopf and junior Kaitlyn Hrivnak, respectively. While both relationships face obstacles with mental illness and misunderstandings that ail the couples, Hoffman’s relationship shows a young marriage which has fresh problems. The older couple embodies a connection which has been increasingly severed through a near total lack of empathy for each other. The love relationships parallel political divides within a country which begin as small disagreements between both sides, then manifest as irreconcilable differences.
The world premiere of Neil Blackadder’s English translation of “Before Sunrise” will run from Wednesday, Oct. 24 through Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Harbach Theatre at the Center for Fine Arts.