By Brooke Schultz
It was William Shakespeare who said in “Hamlet” that “the purpose of playing… was and is, to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.’”
This collection of fall plays at Washington College aims to do just that, said Brendon Fox, assistant professor of theater.
“Each of those [productions] cover a hundred years between them, but they’re all going to give the student body an opportunity to see on stage a range of experiences, ethnicities, orientations,” Fox said. “I think [that] is exactly what theater should do.”
Fox’s production, “Major Barbara,” Oct. 5-7 at 7:30 p.m. in Decker Theatre, is the first of the semester. Updated to the present day from its early 1900s setting, the story focuses on Barbara Undershaft, who grew up wealthy but devotes a large amount of her time to working at the Salvation Army shelter in London. She and her distant father, a weapons manufacturer, strike a deal, each with the goal of converting the other.
Fox and Lex Liang, the visiting set and costume designer from New York, decided earlier this year to update the time period.
“There’s still a Salvation Army, there’s still weapons manufacturers all over the world, there’s still people who have a lot of money and people who have little,” Fox said. “All of the issues that George Bernard Shaw was wrestling with a hundred years ago are unfortunately still around today and are even more pressing.”
Fox was first introduced to Shaw’s work in college, which is fitting for the the college cast and audience.
“For most students, they will be far away from home, or at least away from home, away from influence of siblings, parents, other older figures in their life. And they have to figure out who they are, and who they are is separate from all these other people that they have been living with and were influenced by,” he said. “I think Barbara’s struggle to define herself and what she believes in, I think is really reflective of WC students exploring those same questions.”
Fox’s show is followed by senior Emily Cao’s Senior Capstone Experience, “Yellow Face.”
Cao said the play resonated with her because it correlates with her cultural background and because, “I am from China and I possess the stereotypical Oriental yellow face,” she said.
“Yellow Face,” Oct. 27-28, is about DHH, a famous Asian-American who mistakenly casts a white man to play an Asian role in the 1990s. This is a “deeper analysis of Asian-American community in American mainstream society,” Cao said.
“In the play, I felt so sad when I saw many negative comments about Chinese Americans. I have strong feelings about breaking the stereotypes and biases in order to protect minority groups, particularly Chinese Americans,” she said. The main character, DHH, served as a catalyst for Cao’s emotions and experiences, helping her feel a close connection to the characters in the play.
Before WC, Cao said she hadn’t had much experience with theater. Here, she began taking acting, design, directing, and theater technology classes.
“I am excited to cooperate with different kinds of people,” she said. “We learn from each other and we grow with each other. During the process, all of us will suffer troubles and confusion. I hope all of us can hold together and beat the difficulties. Theater beats the monster.”
Cao selected this play as a way to bring attention to society’s flaws.
“I hope the audience will notice the conflict between mainstream white society and minorities. Furthermore, the deeper question is how to break up stereotypes and racism,” she said.
She likened her production to senior Connor Lugo-Harris’s production, “A Raisin in the Sun,” Nov. 3-4.
“I am really looking forward to ‘[A] Raisin in the Sun’ because we have similar purposes and themes. We want to reflect on the race conflict,” she said.
“A Raisin in the Sun,” set in the 1950s, follows the Youngers, an African-American family living together in a small apartment in Chicago. After the death of Mr. Younger, the family must decide how to spend the $10,000 insurance check they’re about to receive.
The Elm reached out to Lugo-Harris for comment on his production, but received no response.
Rosie Alger’s “Spring Awakening” takes the stage Nov. 10-11. Set in 1892 Germany, the play is about a group of young children growing up in a strict, religious environment. With no sex education, the play focuses on the trials they go through as they transition into adulthood.
Alger was first introduced to the story when she saw the musical version on Broadway with a friend. Later, she read the play version for a design class and grew attached to it.
“The conflicts that it addresses, the scenes where there’s sexual violence or the scenes where–there’s a suicide–the sort of big moments in the play, I feel like are a little more raw in the play version,” she said. “For my project, I want it to hit those hard-hitting questions a little more deeply, which I thought the play did.”
Although Alger has been involved in theater since she begged her mom to join drama camp over the summer as a child, she was hesitant to get involved at WC, she said.
“I was looking to be an English major,” she said. “I didn’t actually get involved in theater at WC right away. I steered away from it because I was intimidated by the college level and that I wouldn’t have time for it. I was nervous about not getting in. … The next thing I knew I was majoring.”
At WC, she acted in productions like “Henry V,” “Equus,” and “The Arsonists,” and has done some assistant stage managing for other productions.
For this project in particular, she is excited to work with her team.
“The thing about directing is that most of what you’re doing is pulling the best of the ideas and putting them together,” she said. “I don’t see it as my project. I see it as I’m building a really cool team of people and we’re building it together.”
“Spring Awakening” has a lot of characters, she said, which makes her nervous about the size of the production.
“As much as it is a challenge to have a big group, it’s also an asset because you have a lot of minds working together,” she said.
“What I really want to focus on are the things that make us–the things we don’t talk about in society, the things that make us uncomfortable that we want to push back–I want to bring that into the conversation,” she said. “I hope audiences feel a little uncomfortable and a little unsettled by what they see and that they go out thinking to themselves how the issues you see in this place, even though it takes place in the past, are still really current today, how we have to embrace those unsettling feelings because if we ignore them, those problems are going to continue.”
Concluding the fall SCE productions is Abbey Wark’s “Almost, Maine,” running Dec. 1 and 2.
The play is set in the imaginary town Almost, located in Maine. Wark said the play is about “falling in and out of love, and what they’re willing to risk for love along the way.”
She first encountered the play this time last year after finding it in Miller Library. She read it in its entirety within an hour and was “completely entranced by it,” she said.
Wark has been involved with theater since high school, working in productions like a one acts competition and a spring musical. For the past two years, she has gotten directing experience through a children’s theater near her hometown. Last summer, she directed two half-hour musicals composed of 57 kids — “The Jungle Book Jr.” and “The Aristocats Jr.”
Going into this production, she’s most excited for the castwith which she gets work.
“The play is so much fun and allows for a lot of collaboration. I have wonderful designers and actors, so that will absolutely be the best part,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes her audience leaves feeling something — “Whether they leave the theater loving it, hating it, feeling the need to call someone they love, anything,” she said. “I think that shows an audience was engaged, and all I can ask is that the work everyone puts into this show moved someone.”
As for the lineup of shows preceeding her, Wark said she’s excited to see them all.
“All the shows this semester are pushing boundaries and going to the extremes,” she said. “All last year I was able to watch my fellow directors put their hearts into understanding their shows and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.”