In Will Eno’s “Oh, the Humanity and other good intentions,” a character laments, “When begins my true life as me on earth?”
The play is an interesting choice for Ellen Rogers’ senior studio, since it is recent (2007) and possibly esoteric in its modernity. But Rogers is not concerned about whether University of Dallas audiences will relate.
“These characters ask themselves questions I ask myself every day, questions that pop into your head that you might not want to say out loud,” Rogers said.
In the Senior Studio series, set to be performed April 26-29, graduating drama majors each choose a short play to direct as an opportunity for them to express some aspect of their artistic identities.
For Rogers, Samuel Pate and Noah Kersting, the studios are a meaningful culmination of their undergraduate studies and something they care about personally. They also understand that the studios are meant to serve a larger cultural purpose.
“The play is not about me,” Pate said. “The audience has just as much control over the experience as the actors do, as I do. If they are open to the experience, that’s when the play can cause a transformation.”
Senior studios reflect UD’s broader cultural sensibilities. In certain places and times, the existence of a theater-going community is a sign of a culture’s vibrancy; Elizabethan England or the Golden Age of Athens come to mind.
Nietzsche described succinctly the appeal of Attic drama:
“This metaphysical solace that … life is at bottom indestructibly joyful and powerful, was expressed most concretely in the chorus of satyrs … With this chorus the profound Greek, so uniquely susceptible to the subtlest and deepest suffering, who had penetrated the destructive agencies of both nature and history, solaced himself.”
The transformation that Pate envisions his play and the other senior drama major’s plays will cause has something of Nietzsche’s philosophical solace. As the audience choruses the plays, they become absorbed in what these talented seniors have to say about the world we live in.
Audiences of the senior studios have a tall task ahead of them. Rogers, Pate and Kersting have made radically diverse choices for their plays, and without a bit of background, audiences may find that certain subtleties pass them by.
Rogers’ play, “Oh, the Humanity,” is a collection of four shorter plays. We meet a sports coach apologizing for a losing season, people making online dating profiles, recreating historical photographs and arguing during a car ride.
Rogers quotes critic Charles Isherwood in her press release for the play: “Mr. Eno dares to still believe that the theater is the natural forum for a collective reckoning with the brutal truths and the consoling beauties of experience.”
“Oh, the Humanity” belongs to our day and age; the play fails or succeeds in part depending on how you feel about the current state of the world.
Kersting’s play, a modern adaptation of Moliere’s “The Precious Damsels,” shows us a different view of modern life. Two young girls refuse marriage proposals from two rich men, and chaos ensues as the men attempt to embarrass the girls by sending employees in disguise to seduce them.
“The characters in my play are very pretentious, they pretend to know things they may have no idea about,” Kersting wrote. “They may be very good at appearing like they know things, and that’s what happens on social media.”
Audiences may be jarred by the contrast between Eno’s profound but potentially precocious existential angst and Moliere’s light-hearted social critique of elitism.
Pate’s play, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Debutante,” from his novel “This Side of Paradise,” offers something more than a worldview. It tells the story of Rosalind Connage, a beautiful New York bachelorette, and her budding romance with the aspiring writer Amory Blaine, modeled after Fitzgerald himself, in the years following the Great War.
“ [‘The Debutante’ is] an evocative and sensational story about the agony and the ecstasy of falling in love,” Pate wrote.
Pate emphasized the play’s focus on vulnerability in human relationships.
“The Debutante” asks us to believe in two young lovers and the connection they share. It demands that we take seriously their reservations and their occupations.
When an audience sees a play, they are removed from the world and transported someplace else. They are transformed.
For the seniors directing their plays, senior studios are a last chance to be transformed, to become someone else, although of course you end up becoming a more developed version of yourself.
As Rosalind Connage says, “That’s just why it has to end. Drifting hurts too much. We can’t have any more scenes like this.”