By Brian Neumann
Great theatre has always pushed boundaries, challenging audiences both intellectually and emotionally. Its power and poignancy lie in its ability to transcend mere words and confront the struggles at the heart of the human experience. It should come as no surprise that the Theatre Department has taken on two plays this semester that seek to do exactly that.
The first play, produced by the theatre department itself, is American realist Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. The play, written in 1934, presents the story of Mary Tilford, an angry young student who runs away from her all-girls boarding school.
Refusing to return, Tilford accuses the school’s headmistresses –Karen Wright and Martha Dobie—of having an affair. As the play unfolds, this simple lie shatters the women’s careers, their relationships and their lives.
Senior Theatre major Caroline Davis, who plays Martha Dobie, says the play’s message of the capacity of “lies and judgment [to] destroy people’s lives” should powerfully resonate with Furman students.
Director Jay Oney agrees. The Children’s Hour, he says, reveals the “horrible power of unopposed lies, a power that we too often see in practice in all aspects of our world.”
The play also advocates tolerance for people of all sexual preferences, a message as relevant today as it was in 1934.
Davis credits the faculty’s guidance and the cast’s camaraderie with creating a rehearsal environment in which the actors can explore the depths of their characters In the words of director Jay Oney, the play’s “emotional confrontations” and “biting humor” and the talent of its cast and crew “have the potential to stun Furman audiences with [their] power.”
The play runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10, at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. on Nov. 4. All performances will be held in The Playhouse.
Though weeks of challenging and rewarding rehearsal remain, the actors are excited for the chance to breathe meaning and life into their characters.
The second, Nicky Silver’s Beautiful Child, is being produced by the Order of Furman Theatre, a student-run organization that strives to engage Furman students in all aspects of the theatrical process.
Beautiful Child, which premiered off-Broadway in 2004, tells the story of an art teacher who has fallen in love with an eight-year-old student. He seeks shelter and stability by returning home to his parents, who are torn between their horror and their love for their son.
In the words of director Tyler Mitchell, the play dramatically depicts the ways in which our culture “copes with that which is beyond its understanding [and] explores how we extend humanity to others.” Mitchell, a senior Theatre major making his directorial debut, says the play’s underlying question is, “How can we extend the right to subjectivity to those who perform desires unlike our own?”
The production stars Tom West, Liza Veilleux, Andy Lecture, Caitlin Cain, and Lizzie Dockery. It will run from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, at 8 p.m. in The Playhouse.
Beautiful Child and The Children’s Hour promise to be great theatrepieces, if more than a little controversial.