Dark, mysterious and yet full of faith, Esther Sequeira’s senior studio, “The Countess Cathleen,” introduces a spin on the story of Christ’s sacrifice.
“When I was choosing my studio I was reading a lot of different plays,” Sequeira said. “Nothing had spoken to me really until [this] story really, really moved me. I came out of it crying the first time I read it. I think it’s a very beautiful story, very poignant. It’s very theatrical. And in a strange kind of fantasy fairytale way it is the Passion story.”
The show, by William Butler Yeats, opens in famine-struck Ireland, where peasants have been starving for years and most have reached the very end of their faith. Desperate situations have made them incredibly vulnerable to temptation, which comes in the form of two demons disguised as merchants.
“In this world of the Countess Cathleen, I think we have a lot of selfish characters which often makes for a good story: a bunch of selfish characters not communicating correctly,” said senior Austin Ferguson, who plays Aleel, the servant and companion of Cathleen. “The world is starving — they’re in a very long famine. Then two merchants come in and they inform everyone that they can sell their souls for money and then with the money buy food.”
The peasants rejoice in this opportunity, but, because of their lack of faith, they are unable to see the coming consequences of their actions.
“Are you really surviving if you sell your soul?” Ferguson asked.
Countess Cathleen, a noblewoman living in the land, is not fooled by the merchants, and opens her castle to the poor.
“She’s just thinking about her people because she’s got this huge heart,” said freshman Sandy Twetten, who plays the Countess. “And she ends up selling her soul for her people — for their souls and to feed them ‘until the dirth goes by.’ ”
Sequeira said that in the end of the play, the plot reveals that the Countess is a rare female Christ figure.
“She just knows that the sacrifice is so worth it,” Twetten said.
“It’s fantasy that has a very Christian message,” Sequeira said. “I’m very attached to the sacrifice that Christ made for us, and that really is what made me say, ‘I have to tell this story.’ ”
Though the story of Christ is one with which most University of Dallas students are familiar, Sequeira found Cathleen’s humanity inspiring.
“Cathleen is a very human character, but even as a human she is able to give up everything even though she knows it’s going to be horrible,” Sequeira said. “Even though she knows she could go to Hell for this … She knows full well, but she’s desperate to save everyone around her, even the people who don’t deserve it.”
Ferguson hopes that the show will spark reflection in the audience.
“I don’t know what I would do if I was starving and a couple guys said I could sell my soul,” Ferguson said. “Maybe my faith wouldn’t be as strong as I hope it would be. And maybe that’s what we’re doing sometimes when we’re choosing sin.”
This captivating story of Cathleen’s sacrifice demonstrates the importance of trusting in God no matter how dire the circumstances may be. The story emphasizes the theological virtue of faith, fitting in perfectly with the other studios’ exhibitions of hope and love.
Sequeira hopes that the beautiful message of faith and sacrifice will shine through the dark and desperate situations depicted onstage.
“I want the audience to feel a sense of hope and lightness at the end of this play,” Sequeira said. “I want them to be moved in a way that I think only mythology and fairytales can move us.”