By Linda Smith
Collaboration is a must at some point in most careers. Drama seniors Jerick Johnson, Deborah Corpening, Brian Ahern, Margaret Claahsen and Taylor Garcia know the process all too well, and this semester have undergone important collaborations in their senior studios. For some, like Johnson, it is a different experience from previous artistic projects.
“I’m used to working in after-hours mode, where it is myself, maybe two other people, or in the ceramics studio where it is just me,” Johnson said. “In the senior studio, it is more about collaborating with your professors, then it is coordinating with your designers, with your crew members, with your cast. And to get that all working in one symbiotic life form is really hard sometimes.”
Johnson is directing “The Imaginary Cuckold” by Molière, a “vivacious, witty farce” which presents the young lovers Cèlie and Lèlie, played by freshmen Amy Federer and Samuel Pate, and the older married couple Sganarelle and Martine, played by junior Matthew Sawczyn and sophomore Regina Mills. The play involves the miscommunications between and among the couples, to the point that each person ends up thinking that his or her significant other is cheating on him or her with a member of the other couple. Senior Austin Ferguson is playing Célie’s father Gorgibus, junior Paul Lewis is playing Lélie’s valet Gros-Rene, and the character who clears up confusion, Lisette, is played by sophomore Bethany Berry. Other characters include Dorante and Villebrequinn, played by senior Mike McDermott, clumsy waiter Pepo, played by freshman Noah Kersting and coffee shop violinist, played by freshman Mara Borer. While the original play is set in 1660, Johnson and his design team have set it in a modern-day coffee shop, as the issues in it are still relevant today.
“[There] are people now dealing with infidelity, jealousy and all kinds of debauchery in the modern age,” Johnson said. “Human experience has not changed that much since those times.”
However, Johnson has kept true to the rhyming couplets of the play’s original French verse as he finds it a beautiful and integral part of the play.
“It is really lovely to see that work in its entirety,” he said.
Ahern is also using an English translation of a play in which language plays a crucial role. He is directing “Bremen Freedom” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The play is based on the true story of Geesche Gottfried, a serial killer in the 1820s who was the last woman to be publicly executed in Germany. Geesche is played by senior Catie McLain. Geesche begins her killing spree with different lovers who mistreat her, including Miltenberger and Gottfried, played by senior Zack Kraus and sophomore Ed Houser, respectively. She only grows in her madness to kill others, including members of her family. Her father Timm is played by senior Aidan Malone, her mother is played by junior Esther Sequeira, her brother Johann is played by freshman Zac Curtis, Rumpf and Bohm are played by sophomore Simon Gonzales, best friend Luisa is played by freshman Hope Gniewek, local priest Father Markus is played by freshman Stephen Eich and her third lover Zimmerman is played by senior Jack Friddle.
“The most difficult thing is just trying to navigate the strange language of the play, and the way it is structured,” Ahern said. “The biggest reward is that it is just such a good play, despite the fact that it is so weird. It is so compelling. It is unsettling in a way, and I think that is a big part of it.”
Since Johnson and Ahern have such large casts, having actors who can bring a unique spin to their roles has been important.
“The actors lend their own personality to the character,” Ahern said. “It is sometimes perfect how well they fit with their character. That has been really cool, and I think one of the best things about the show is that you can watch it and there is always constantly these people coming in and out. They are all very colorful and interesting.”
Claahsen is directing “The Frog Prince” by David Mamet. The play opens on the prince, played by senior Aidan Malone, in the woods with his serving man, played by senior Alec Thie. A curse is placed upon the prince by an old witch, played by freshman Alonna Ray, when he refuses to offer her flowers. He becomes a frog, and the curse can only be undone with a willing kiss from someone unaware of his curse. This leads him to pursue a deeper relationship with a milkmaid, played by sophomore Mary Armato. Mamet uses colloquial language arranged in iambic pentameter.
“My show explores the juxtaposition behind idealistic expectations and pipe dreams, and then reality,” Claahsen said. “You come in with this ideal, thinking life will be perfect, and then it is not, and what do you do with that afterward? And I think that’s relevant to everyone.”
Claahsen’s set and props will be constructed from paper and cardboard. She was inspired to this choice by the artist James Grashow, whose “Corrugated Fountain” was a replica of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. After putting much work into it, the sculpture was ruined in a matter of days.
“One of the messages of my play is that life always goes on, even if it does not turn out the way you expect it to,” Claahsen said. “Good things can be transient. I saw that parallel [in the choice to use paper and cardboard].”
Garcia is directing “Lone Star” by James McLure. Brothers Roy and Ray, played by actual brothers senior Alec and junior Stephen Thie, find themselves behind a Texas bar at 1 a.m., struggling through betrayal and forgiveness. Senior Joseph Quinlan stars as friend Cletis, who ends up throwing one of the biggest curveballs in the play.
“I love very authentic, genuine, human interaction in theater and that’s what attracted me to this show and in particular this playwright,” Garcia said. “It is a journey we all go through, to forgive someone for something they have done against us. I think it is really important that we all experience that in a west Texas town behind a bar at 1 a.m.”
Corpening is directing “Equinox” by Jonathan Graham. Middle-aged Christine, played by business graduate student Chetna Rajpurohit, is a prosecutor dealing with the case of 14-year old Evelyn, played by sophomore Ellie Dimitry. Throughout the course of the play’s five scenes, a familiar power dynamic gradually shifts, resulting in a total reversal of power at the end.
Corpening can also enjoy the contemporary nature of her play, particularly because Graham is a playwriting professor, and his play has only received one other production. She has been contacting him via email, and “theater-nerding” with him about her production.
“All of it [the work] has been not me, but us,” Corpening said. “It is nice to know that out in the real world, people are just as eager as we are here to collaborate and talk about things, and just care about making theater.”