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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Brechtin' Ain't Easy

On their path to graduation, all Villanova Theatre second-year students complete an Orals project - the equivalent of a Master's thesis - in a chosen area that they have studied over the past two years. Options range from academic to artistic and have taken on many forms over the years.  John, currently playing Tiger Brown in Villanova's production of The Threepenny Opera, is exploring the particular difficulties that accompany playing a Brechtian role.  Brecht created his own aesthetic in the mid-20th century, and along with it, a new style of acting.  What's it like to take on an unfamiliar technique?  Read below to find out!

As I write this blog post, it's April 3rd and we are just starting a much needed four day rest for Easter Break before returning for tech week, and my brain has been out in Brecht-space for about six weeks straight. (For those unaware, Bertolt Brecht wrote The Threepenny Opera, the musical which we're currently neck-deep in.)  To be honest, I'm surprised I can remember what state I live in at the moment. This material is difficult for several reasons, but I'm quite glad to be here. This is my last show as a second year in the MA program, and playing Tiger Brown is a great-and challenging-note to go out on.

John as Officer Lockstock in Urinetown
I first become somewhat acquainted with Brecht several years ago during undergrad, and within a year or so of studying him (somewhat) for the first time, we did a production of Urinetown. I played Officer Lockstock (look at that, another chief of police) and ended up being our dramaturg and writing the program notes, so this was when I really began to read about the conventions of Brecht's Epic Theatre and how Urinetown was a love letter to shows like The Threepenny Opera. I thought I knew what I was in for, but it's a much more delicate process than I had imagined.

It's very hard to approach Brecht like you would a conventional play or musical. I hesitate to put it this way, but you're not really playing a flesh and blood character, you're playing an idea. Almost like a stock character from a farce, but more complicated than that. Brecht wanted his audiences alienated...it's called "verfremdungseffekt", or the distancing effect. He wanted you to think about the deeper meaning of the material after leaving the play, and doing this outside of the theatre. He didn't want his audiences deeply engaged with the characters, enough to worry about who's getting killed, who's cheating on who, how character A knows character B's plan, etc. It was sort of a "Don't worry about that and be entertained" approach, because he wanted his audiences very aware that they were watching a play and directly addressed them through the fourth wall. 

John as John (seriously!) in Michael & Edie
Now, the ultimate insult for Brecht was said to be an actor who "became" a character rather than played them...he wanted his actors demonstrating the material, not living it. Therefore, as an actor performing Brecht, it may seem to be counter-intuitive to everything you've ever learned. Forget Stanislavsky and throw out Meisner. For a normal play, if I was playing a police officer in 1839, like I am here, I would be doing a lot more historical research than I am this time, because you simply can't be method in a show like this. Sometimes you're playing an actor, observing the show with a knowing grin. A second later you may be playing your character. Moments later, you may be observing as your character, but not engaged. But you're not the actor, viewing with detachment, you're the character. A character who is detached and removed, but still IN the play, while OUTSIDE the play, who a moment later might be IN the play, and engaged. It's understandable if during the rehearsal process, people forget who they are. 


But Valerie Joyce is kind of a genius, so none of us are ever worried, because it all just works out. Not to mention Peter Hilliard is kind of a wizard, and he's leading the band. We're moving right along as we approach tech, and everything is falling into place nicely. Now, if only I could get my body to be a dancer as well as an actor and a singer. I said Valerie was a genius, but it'll be a miracle if she gets me to become a good dancer. (I'm tryin'.)

The Threepenny Opera runs from April 14th-26th at Villanova Theatre.  Call 610-519-7474 or visit www.villanovatheatre.org for tickets!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Announcing the 2015-2016 Season!

We are so excited about the 2015-2016 Season, which was officially announced last Sunday to an audience of thrilled subscribers.  Our 2015-16 Season's plays share an attention to beautiful and lyrical language, evocative design aesthetics, and colorful characters.  


EURYDICE directed by James Ijames                      
September 22 - October 4, 2015
written by Sarah Ruhl

Descend into a mythic and magical underworld replete with talking stones, Hades on a bicycle, and a glowing river of the dead.  In Sarah Ruhl's fantastical reimagining of the classic Greek myth, we join unsung heroine Eurydice as she parts with the love of her life, journeys into death, reunites with her departed father, and struggles to relearn the language of the living.  Called "an inexpressibly moving theatrical fable about love, loss and the pleasures and pains of memory" by The New York TimesEurydice looks like a dream, sounds like a poem, and feels like the breath of life.

MACBETH directed by James J. Christy          
November 10 - 22, 2015
written by William Shakespeare

"Something wicked this way comes" in Shakespeare's masterpiece of manipulation, murder, and ambition. Macbeth transports audiences to the mystical middle ages, where prophecy and superstition drive the hearts of men.  When three witches predict Macbeth's ascension to the throne, the Thane of Cawdor and his scheming wife start slashing their bloody path to power, armed with violence, deception, and treachery. The Bard's most thrilling tragedy explodes with exciting fight choreography, hair-raising encounters with the mystical, and diabolical characters whose lust for power results in their ultimate and inevitable downfall.  When Macbeth "rushes headlong into the hurly-burly," it doesn't stop, and "every breath starts to feel like a gasp." -The New York Times

A WONDERFUL NOISE directed by Harriet Power    
February 9 - 21, 2016
book by Michael Hollinger - A regional premiere!
story, music and lyrics by Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl

As World War II rages in Europe, a different kind of battle looms in St. Louis, Missouri, as barbershop quartets from around the country converge to sing, compete, and fraternize (in harmony, no less!).  One quartet, "The Harmelodians," hails from Muddy Creek, Missouri; another, "Sweet Adeline," has come all the way from the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia's own "Sweet Adeline" - it turns out - is actually comprised by four women disguised as men, who have come to compete, protest the barbershop society's exclusion of women, and prove that the girls can do it as well (if not better!) than the boys. Set in 1941, this heartfelt, nostalgic musical explores male and female friendship, women's hunger for respect and equality, the pressures and pleasures of making art, and the sudden shift in perspective when an international crisis crashes, unplanned, into young lives. Like a good melody, A Wonderful Noise is sure to linger on in the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere.

TRANSLATIONS directed by Valerie Joyce                           
April 12 - 24, 2016
written by Brian Friel

Irish treasure Brian Friel's most celebrated play follows English soldier George Yolland to the fictional town of Baile Baeg, populated with Irish speakers more familiar with Latin epic poetry than English.  As Yolland begins renaming local lakes, rivers, and mountains (loch, abhainn, and cairn) for English maps, he finds himself falling in love with the Irish language - and a girl who speaks it.  A deeply personal look at decimation of Irish language and culture during the English occupation,Translations examines how the clash of two worlds threatens the foundation of an entire country.  Mounted in celebration of the Easter Uprising of 1916 in Dublin, Villanova's production of the most lauded of Brian Friel's 'Ballybeg' series poses the question: what gets lost in translation?


Call 610-519-7474 or visit www.villanovatheatre.org to book your 2015-16 subscription today!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Threepenny's Crime-Movie Picks!

One of the many things we love about The Threepenny Opera is its ability to tickle our secret itch to live vicariously through the nefarious deeds of slick (and not-so-slick) criminals.  Looking for more guilty pleasures?  Some of the characters from Threepenny's underbelly share their favorite crime-world movies!  Use them to enjoy your long weekend!

MACHEATH's Favorite: Ocean's Eleven 

Not the 2001 remake.  The Rat Pack version, thank you very much.  Like Macheath, the heroes of Ocean's Eleven are cool, well-dressed, and have a way with the ladies.



MR. AND MRS. PEACHUM's Favorite: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Mr. Peachum wanted to suggest The Godfather, but Mrs. Peachum insisted they choose a movie that more deftly demonstrates their devoted partnership.  Like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jonathan and Celia Peachum are a perfect match, and while they may not always agree, they will forever have each others' backs.



POLLY PEACHUM's Favorite: La Femme Nikita

Polly may look sweet, but she's got a bite just as sharp as Mack.  No wonder she loves Nikita, who lives one life as a normal girl, and another as a stone-cold assassin.



LUCY BROWN's Favorite:  Fatal Attraction

Sometimes love can get out of hand.  No one knows that better than Lucy, who says to Macheath, "I would rather see you hanged than in the arms of another woman.  Isn't that funny?"  Uh . . . right.  Very funny.  Just as funny as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.



JENNY DIVER's Favorite: Pretty Woman

It would have been nice if Macheath had made an honest woman out of Jenny, whisking her away from the brothel and to a life of bourgeois comfort.  Sadly, that was not to be their fate.  Can't stop a girl from dreaming, though.



FILCH's Favorite:  Blow

This rags-to-riches drug kingpin movie speaks to Filch's desire to rise up out of the gutter and ascend to glory.  Unfortunately he may have to settle for a life more like Eddie Murphy's in Trading Places.  




TIGER BROWN's Favorite: The Departed

Listen, law enforcement is complicated.  Police officers put their lives on the line every day and may not always be able to fit their actions into such constricting categories as "right" or "wrong."  It's nice when a movie comes along that can remind the general public of that troubling fact.




The Threepenny Opera runs April 14th-26th at Villanova Theatre.  Call 610-519-7474 or visit www.villanovatheatre.org for tickets!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Read Between the Lines

Dramaturg Sarah McAfee cracks into the romantic literary wonderland of Michael & Edie.

“Franny was staring at the little blotch of sunshine with a special intensity, as if she were considering lying down in it.”
― J.D. SalingerFranny and Zooey


I love the smell of books.  Even more the smell of old books.  And, in particular, the books that I have from my grandmother’s house.  In addition to the vaguely vanilla and marzipan overtones lurks a piney, smoky remnant from where the books lived in the built-in bookshelves over the fireplace.  They remind me of home. 

Some stories are so deeply familiar to us, that scanning the curve of their letters evokes a world so vivid, a journey so encompassing that we can smell the tension of every twist and the release of every revelation.  They are old friends, with whom we reacquaint ourselves over coffee on a rainy afternoon, recalling the pathways and crossroads we traversed with their heroes.

In centering the journeys of Michael and Edie between the shelves of a used bookstore, Rachel Bonds evokes the creaky, dusty familiarity that the old tomes represent.  The location itself becomes a malleable character, a shelf to be rearranged and highlight the best and most interesting volumes.  The bookstore becomes a haven, a blotch of sunlight for these characters to ride out the tempest beyond the door.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Girl Who Lives in a Bathtub

On their path to graduation, all Villanova Theatre second-year students complete an Orals project - the equivalent of a Master's thesis - in a chosen area that they have studied over the past two years. Options range from academic to artistic and have taken on many forms over the years.  Sarah, currently playing Sarah (you can't make this up) in Villanova Theatre's upcoming Michael & Edie, is exploring the challenge of playing a character with a expansive mental and emotional life in a particularly confined space.  Below, Sarah discusses the joys and pain of the Michael & Edie rehearsal process.

SARAH:  As another rehearsal flies by one blustery Tuesday night, our director James Ijames has a sudden outburst:

“Man, everyone in this play is just having the WORST time!”

We all break out laughing, primarily because of the fervor with which he says it, but also because of the truth of this statement. These characters are embroiled in unrequited love, simmering in grief, pursued by fear. In short: they struggle.

Take my character, Sarah, for an example. She lives in a bathtub. I don’t mean that she sometimes lingers a few minutes in the shower, postponing the moment when she has to step out into the cold air. I mean that she has literally taken up residence in the family bathtub, ensconced in unwashed blankets and sporting perpetually unwashed hair. Why, you may ask? That is exactly what I have been figuring out through the process of rehearsing for Michael & Edie.

Sarah is not feeling well. It is not a physical illness per se – her stomach is not upset, and she doesn’t have the sniffles. Her malaise is more of the emotional and psychological variety, which confuses and upsets her. Portraying the symptoms of depression has been a huge challenge, and, I think, an important one. The world of the play is like a magical little snow-globe where the characters chase their dreams, but Sarah feels as though she is on the outside of that snow-globe gazing in, her breath making clouds on the glass.

Playing a person who is dealing with physical and emotional isolation has awakened me to the reality that many people are facing those exact challenges every day. Over the few weeks that we have been working on this production, I have been so thankful for the dramaturgical assistance of Sarah McAfee, who has helped me to immerse myself in the circumstances of mental illness, and, at the same time, to understand that it is Sarah’s obstacle, not her identity. She is so much more than that: she is sarcastic, she is intelligent. She hates lemon meringue pie and loves arts and crafts. She vibrates with need and with hunger and with a certain amount of chaos.

Playwright Rachel Bonds’ wonderful script has been a delight to engage with. Her dialogue is as delicate and specific as the crystals of a snowflake. As every word falls from my mouth, I feel closer to Sarah and her desire to penetrate the glass that separates her from the world. When dealing with a piece that toys with whimsy and magic at every turn, it is jarring to hear the truthful naturalism with which the characters speak. I enjoy being able to tune in to the world of the play through the deliciously modern language, which reads like a beautiful poem peppered with “ums” and “wells” and “ohs.”

Ultimately, my favorite part about this truly enriching rehearsal process has been the intimacy of the show, which has allowed for me as a performer to really examine my relationship with each of my fellow actors. It is the kind of play that demands this examination of a fellow human being. It demands that we feel each other out. Notice each other. Sense each other’s “textures and temperatures.” It asks that we not just make eye contact with each other, but notice each fleck of icy blue hovering within the smoky indigo iris of each eye like a star careening through an endless cosmos. It wants us to drown in that cosmos in the hopes of finding understanding there.


It is a whole universe, floating inside a bathtub.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MICHAEL & EDIE's Snowy Day Playlist

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean." - Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Villanova Theatre's upcoming production of Michael & Edie invites audiences to tune in and crank up the volume.  "James [Ijames] will sometimes play a song in rehearsal to underscore a scene," said Sophia Barrett, who plays Edie in the Philadelphia premiere of Rachel Bonds' new play. "It gives us a sense of how musical this world is."


So just for you, our loyal audience, we've put together a playlist full of songs about love, literature, and longing to whet your appetite for this fresh new play!  It's perfect for a snowy evening, curled up under a blanket with a good book and a cup of cocoa!  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Michael & Edie Staff Pick Book Shelf

Villanova Theatre's newest production Michael & Edie (running February 10th-22nd) takes place inside a magical bookstore.  Michael and Edie, both clerks in this literary labyrinth, bury themselves in comforting stacks of the world's greatest authors' greatest books in an effort to escape the messiness and complications of their own lives.  And that's the beauty of books, isn't it?  To lose yourself into vivid worlds built from words and image instead of bricks and mortar.  Below, each character in Rachel Bond's deeply affecting coming-of-age literary love story shares their recommendation for the "Staff Pick" bookshelf!



Michael's pick:  The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara by Frank O'Hara

Michael yearns for intimate connections to others.  When he finds he lacks them, he uses his imagination to create a sense of closeness.  He is drawn, therefore, to O'Hara's deeply personal poetic tone.  This collection, edited by Donald Allen, shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.  Just as Michael speaks his longing musings about Edie aloud, O'Hara was inspired by his daily observations of the world around him.  O'Hara said of his own work: "It may be that poetry makes life's nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail".


TODAY by Frank O'Hara

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
Your really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers.  They
do have meaning.  They're strong as rocks.

[1950]



Edie's pick:  Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Mysterious and sad Edie finds deep comfort in Franny and Zooey, a book comprised of two separate stories dedicated to the youngest members of the Glass family - which was a frequent focus in Salinger's writings.  When Franny finds herself in the midst of a spiritual and existential breakdown, her older brother, an emotionally toughened genius, reaches out to her, offering brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.




EXCERPT FROM FRANNY AND ZOOEY by J.D. Salinger

"Against my better judgment I feel certain that somewhere very near here - the first house down the road, maybe - there's a good poet dying, but also somewhere very near here somebody's having a hilarious pint of pus taken from her lovely young body, and I can't be running back and forth between grief and high delight."



Ben's pick: The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien

O'Brien is distinguished from other authors by his ability to merge truth and fiction in this collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War.  Just as Ben tells a story in order to tell the truth, O'Brien explores the truth of the War by weaving tales inspired by his service in Vietnam, feeling that the realities of of the Vietnam War are best explored in fictional form rather than the presentation of precise facts.




EXCERPT FROM THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien

"Together we understood what terror was: you're not human anymore.  You're a shadow.  You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future, leaving behind everything you ever were or wanted to believe in. You know you're about to die.  And it's not a movie and you aren't a hero and all you can do is whimper and wait."



Sarah's pick: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Sarah feels deeply connected to Charlie, the main character of Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Like Sarah, Charlie is deeply sensitive, shy, and intelligent beyond his years.  Perks of a Wallflower reflects on themes of teenage reality and nostalgia.  Chbosky wanted to convey respect for teenagers, to "validate and respect and celebrate what [teenagers] are going through everyday", dedicating his novel to "anyone who's felt like an outcast."




EXCERPT FROM PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky

"I don't know if you've ever felt like that.  That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years.  Or just not exist.  Or just not be aware that you do exist.  Or something like that.  I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this.  That's why I'm trying not to think.  I just want it all to stop spinning."



John's pick:  The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad


Owner of the bookstore in which Michael and Edie meet, John seems to be leading a secret life outside of the store.  Is he meeting a lady?  Does he have a family at home waiting for him?  Or maybe, just maybe, is he involved with something more diabolical?  Conrad's classic novel, set in London in 1886, deals largely with the life of Mr. Verloc.  During the day, he runs a shop that sells pornographic materials, contraceptives, and bric-a-brac.  At night . . . well, the title says it all.



EXCERPT FROM THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad

"Mr. Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable."



With your tall-tale tastebuds whetted, book your tickets now for Michael & Edie, running February 10th-22nd, by visiting www.villanovatheatre.com or by calling our box office at 610-519-7474.