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2013 Winter Issue 8 (March 8, 2013)

Three Plays in Two Weeks: Here’s What You Missed

March 10, 2013
By Jacob Hoerger

The half-dozen student shows staged the past two weeks have been an interesting buffet of diverse styles and tastes for the Carleton theatergoer and, as always, a chance to enjoy the class and creativity of one’s peers.

As Attempts continued into its second week, Caliban, a COMPS collaboration directed by Connor Lane and staring Shavera Seneviratie, opened with a similar spirit of meta-theatrical experimentation in the dance studio down the hall. It was nice to see the culminating effort of two Carls who’ve given a lot to Carleton performing arts (and much more) in their time here.

Interpreting Caliban, the island native from Shakespeare’s Tempest, has proved over the years a controversial venture. He has appeared in various productions as a brute, noble savage, Darwinian ‘missing link,’ Freudian Id and even as a robot named Robby. This play takes Caliban as the prototypical “Other;” and connects his story to the stories of oppressed in peoples in a wide swath of other works that fall under the loose label “post-colonial.”

Thus, while the play opens with Seneviratie as Caliban, she soon morphs into the character Jackson from Derek Walcott’s Pantomime, Alhaja from Femi Osofisan’s Once Upon Four Robbers, and a host of other roles. Each scene is a moment on the character’s journey out of oppression, constructions and theatricality itself. In the defiant final scene the actor demands to the audience to be called not “Caliban” but “Shavera.” This echoes the 1967 rewriting of The Tempest by Aime Cesaire called A Tempest, in which Caliban tells the audience to call him “X.”

I’ll admit I’m somewhat hesitant to embrace the post-colonial reading of the Tempest that informs this play. Framing the Prospero/Caliban relationship as one of imperialist/colonized feels a bit simplistic, leaving untouched details such as Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda, his eventual slavishness to Stephano, and Prospero’s own displacement which give a more complex coloring to Caliban’s situation. And whereas in Shakespeare’s Tempest Prospero ends up acknowledging Caliban as his own, the Caliban in this play seems to make no attempt to reconcile himself with the forces it is in opposition to. In the process of empowering himself to break out of what he’s been constructed as, this Caliban can’t help but slide into falsely constructing his “Other” as the Imperialistic, Sexist, Racist, White European Male responsible for all social problems. We already know that imperialism et. al.are deplorable, so introducing fancy French theories risks, I think, making into a general intellectual exercise what ought to be a moral, human reaction to particular horrific circumstances.

The real power of the show was seeing Seneviratie relate on a really intimate level to the plights of the characters she played. Hers was a courageous performance, full of anguish, and ultimately ennobling.

Another compassionate COMPs show to debut was Sophie Siegel-Warren’s play Choice(s). Choice(s) is an impressive sociological feat --- the script is taken directly from dozens of interviews Siegel-Warren conducted with Northfield community members (some of whom were in attendance) -- that brings appropriate sobriety and amity to the hot-button issue of reproductive rights. Siegel-Warren captures a cacophony of viewpoints, and the sound-bites are arranged in a smart thematic scheme that keeps the conversation from getting stale. The play aims not so much to try to challenge your own views but rather bring to light the human element animating others’.

The staged reading of the script was performed by a great selection of seniors. Peter Bumcrot and Connor Lane gave especially good readings, and the blocking was subtle but effective. One certainly hopes this play will get a chance to be shown on more occasions around town.

On the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum from Attempts, Caliban and Choice(s)—which were postmodern collages as much as plays – was the conventional ETB production of Frankie and Johnie in the Claine de Lune in Little Norse. Director Jake Kramer ‘15 kept faithfully to the Terrence McNally script, the plot of which uncannily resembled a scene out of the 6th-week show Last of the Red Hot Lovers: a restaurant worker’s turbulent seduction of a younger woman in a New York City apartment. In Frankie and Johnnie, however, the guy does get lucky, and curtain rises just as the love-making (and accompanying Debussy tune) stops and the doldrums of ordinary life resume.

Ashley Shaw ‘14 and Simon Lansberg ‘14 played the titular couple and it’s a testament to their skill that the audience stayed engaged throughout despite little actual going on. Johnnie, strutting around in puffy boxers, is a paragon of persistence and desperation (though his character occasionally seem a little too crazy to understand) as he tries to convince the more graceful and pragmatic Frankie that they can be happy together. 

In his director’s note, Jake writes “I want to generate more than positive reviews from this piece based on feeling … I want to make you come up with new thoughts and ideas!”

I’m not sure there was enough in the script to make good on the latter of Kramer’s entreaties, but Frankie and Johnnie definitely made a strong emotional impression. It was a tenderly sentimental picture of ordinary people finding comfort in childhood reminiscences, Classical Music, Shakespeare and each other (the climax even caused the singer in Prom Queef sitting in my aisle to tear up).

I was out of commission last week, so I apologize that I wasn’t able to make it to Circle Mirror Transformation!

Finally, if between all these shows and two Metro Access trips to the Guthrie you still haven’t quite gotten your fill of Shakespeare (which, if you believe Pierre Hecker, isn’t possible), then definitely be sure to check out Fifty Percent Illusion this weekend, which splices scenes not only from Hamlet but also A Streetcar Named Desire and The Seagull (yay Chekhov!).

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