Theater Department Delves into Dark Dreams and Distorted Drama

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Author: Chloe Jenkins-Sleczkowski

While Oxy students are getting into the grind of classes, the Theater Department is gearing up for another busy semester. The students and staff are already bustling with preparations for the fall semester’s main stage events.

According to Department Chair Susan Gratch, the theater department has a history of staging a broad and stimulating range of theater. This semester is certainly no different. Coming to Keck Theater in November will be “Buried Child.” A play that won playwright Sam Shepard a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, “Buried Child” is a dark and gritty undertaking for the Occidental Theater Department.

“[It’s a] gothic horror story of Middle America, a frightening, chilling and wickedly funny look at an American family unraveling and beginning anew,” said guest director Jim Martin, who is in charge of staging the play.

Martin is an Oxy alum and has often returned to the campus to direct shows and to participate in the summer theater program. He was a director at a regional theater in Texas before coming back to L.A. and forming an independent theater company that pushed the dramaturgical envelope with its plays.

“Buried Child” has received much acclaim since its opening in 1978. An important play of the latter part of the 20th Century, it is considered the zeitgeist of the late ’70s, according to Martin.

“It’s a domestic drama type that’s serious and gritty, a dysfunctional family play,” said Martin. “It looks at the American dream – not the picket fence and little farmhouse, but the idea of the rugged individual traveling, being free, being independent, and what happens to that dream when it doesn’t come true.”

This play examines the cracks in the American dream, and how they affect life in the darkly funny setting of an American family. “The play itself is incredibly interesting,” said “Buried Child” Stage Manager, Maura FitzGerald (senior). “I’m really excited to see how the Oxy community reacts to it.”

In early December, look for the second major production – a sharp contrast to “Buried Child.” This play, “Stage Door,” is a 1936 piece written by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. Director Laural Meade, who is a theater professor at Oxy, enjoys the fascinating mélange of this play. “It feels like a rollicking big cast 1930s comedy, but it’s got these other genres that appear in it,” she said. It’s a mixed piece with bits of screwball comedy, physical humor, and romance. But at the same time it’s a “deep, dark, penetrating drama” with elements of classic tragedy, said Meade.

Meade also appreciates the important themes that the play encourages the audience to consider. As it follows the lives of various actors, the play questions the lure of Hollywood during the 1930s and what differences existed between stage and film.

“The play asks why we do what we do as artists, and what’s [our] artistry for,” Meade said. She explained that it raises questions such as “Who am I, and what’s my position in the world, and how am I going to get by?”

The play takes this critical approach to question the nature of theater. “We really want to challenge the status quo, and see what we can do to get our audience thinking,” said Meade.

And it looks like audience will have something to think about. “It definitely makes a statement,” says “Stage Door” Stage Manager, Alyssa Escalante (senior). “It makes you think hard about the role of art and theater in our lives.”

“Buried Child” opens on Nov. 11 and runs until Nov. 16. “Stage Door” opens on Dec. 2 and runs until Dec. 6.

Auditions for next spring’s productions will be announced later this semester.In addition to these two productions, at the end of February, the Theater Department will stage the New Play Festival comprised of student-written plays directed by professional directors. The productions will need student actors, managers, designers, and stage managers. Scripts for consideration for the 2010 New Play Festival can be submitted electronically until Dec. 14.

There’s definitely something for everyone – and no excuse not to make it to Keck Theater for one of this semester’s anticipated productions.

For more information on how to be involved in the productions, visit http://departments.oxy.edu/theater/ or contact Beatrice Gonzales at beatrice@oxy.edu.

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