Diversions

Behind the Scenes of Playhouse’s “Durang/Durang”

By Rebecca Zimmerman, Copy Editor

For the past three and a half weeks, sophomore Haley Brown, theatre professor Rhett Bryson, and senior Morgan Nance have been working from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. six days a week to produce Christopher Durang’s collection of six one-act plays. As the show’s lighting designer, artistic director, and costume designer, the producers have been working with less rehearsal time than Furman creative teams before them.

Due to Furman’s late return from Christmas Break on Jan. 11 and the theatre department’s plans to produce the intricate musical “Three-Penny Opera” later this semester, the cast and crew have had half a month less than most Playhouse Theatre productions to prepare for lights- up on opening night. For Brown, this meant fighting against the clock to create six distinctive worlds on stage, one for each of Durang’s plays.

The first half of the one- acts—“Mrs. Sorken,” “For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls” and “A Stye of the Eye”—are all theatre parodies easily accessible to audience members with little knowledge of Tennessee Williams and Sam Sheppard, Brown said. They contain just as many dancing Rabbis and cross- dressing men as the production’s more free-form second half, albeit with drastically different styles.

“‘A Stye in the Eye’ takes place in the desert. It is lit with saturated oranges, while ‘For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls’ is full of blues, stifling, but cool”, Brown said.

To make the production even more challenging, Brown had to create these differing effects across the same faces; eight actors present the production’s 27 roles, appearing as different characters in different worlds each time they come on stage.

“Working in such a small space, we face the unique challenges of creating different moods and ambiences while still presenting to the audience a cohesive whole.” Brown said.

For Morgan Nance, “Durang/Durang’s” compressed production period meant scrambling to create over 30 costumes with a budget of $1000.

“We bought most everything we needed or pulled items out of the stock room,” Nance said.

She spent her January weekends rummaging through thrift stores and Walmart bargain bins to find everything from white shirts to blue boxer shorts to dye, cut, and alter to the production’s specifications.

The cast lucked out by finding heels that would fit Dakota Adams, an already towering actor with a size 12 men’s shoe, for Adam’s role as Lala, Nance said. However, other items, from wigs and purses to undershirts and jewelry, however, remained harder to find.

“There must be a black hole in the stock room that swallows bow ties and wedding rings,” Nance said. While the theatre department owned over 50 tuxedos, donated from a now- defunct men’s clothing store, the stock room was completely void of black bow ties and men’s wedding bands.

Meanwhile, Nance journeyed to over five prom shops in search of a red evening dress for the production’s fourth act before finding the perfect dress online two days before it needed to go to alterations.

While Nance shopped through Greenville, artistic director Rhett Bryson set up shop in the Playhouse Theatre itself to start rehearsals, a job made easier by his spectacular cast.

“The secret to success is good casting. We were lucky enough to find eight people who worked well together, believed in the work we were doing, committed to learning their parts as soon as possible, and worked hard through the three and a half week cram,” Bryson said.

The production, Bryson’s third chance to direct a work by Christopher Durang, was especially important because of the experiences it offered to its cast and crewmembers as well as its audience.

“The world is a difficult, dangerous, depressing place. A good laugh is an antidote to that reality,” Bryson said.

“Durang/Durang’s” bitingly satiric and comedic view of the world allowed Bryson to bring that antidote to the Furman community while providing numerous roles and crew positions to budding theatre students.

“The theatre department has more majors than ever before. It is giving out more scholarships. We are responding with more casting opportunities and performance options. ‘Durang/ Durang’ gives our students the chance to work at a high level of cooperation in a professional atmosphere,” Bryson said.

He pointed to the work of Brown, Nance, and Lauren Girouard—the show’s sophomore sound designer who was not available for comment— as prime examples of the theatre department’s success.

“These are Furman students learning while doing, getting practical applications in the workings of theatre.” Bryson said.

The real test of this success, however, will be “Durang/ Durang’s” opening night, Feb. 11.There,withno“talkbacks”or additions from the production’s backstage crew, audience members will decide what the work means for themselves.

“We experience art for what it is and for what it is planned to be,” Bryson said.

With luck, “Durang/ Durang’s” audience will be ready for Adam’s high heels and a dancing Rabbi before the lights fall on opening night.

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