With a number of dynamic and moving performances that are sure to evoke the deepest of emotions, performing arts groups at Georgetown are showcasing some of their best this week. From Mask and Bauble’s fantasy musical “Into The Woods” to the Rev. Khristi Adams’ enlightening “God and Country” to the theater and performance studies department and Black Theatre Ensemble’s “Twelfth Night,” this week’s productions provide a taste of the immense pool of talent that the performing arts community has to offer.
Into the Woods
Fake green leaves are strung along the aisle and glued to black paper that hangs from the ceiling. Some faux tree trunks, wrapped in what seems to be brown burlap mesh, are scattered in front of black curtains. In the upper right-hand corner, a large two-dimensional moon glows softly with artificial stage lights. Combined, these simple props of Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society on Stage III of Poulton Hall breathe a hint of magic into the club’s ambitious spring production of “Into the Woods.”
The play consists of two acts, which chronicle the interwoven journey of several familiar fairytale characters as they try to navigate the perilous world of the woods. The plot focuses primarily on a baker — played by Ryan Sudo (SFS ’17) — and his wife — Caroline Barnes (COL ’19) — who must break a witch’s — Maggie Bolas (MSB ’18) — curse of sterility by collecting four ingredients in three days. The materials they need happen to be staple objects taken from the stories of other fairytale characters, from Cinderella — Megan Spinella (NHS ’19) — and beanstalk-climbing Jack — Matt Beshke (SFS ’18) — to Rapunzel — Kellie Savage (COL ’16) — and Little Red Riding Hood — Vanessa Chapoy (COL ’18).
What the production’s decor lacks in ornamentation, it makes up for in the story’s rich and complex character dynamics. For this reason, director Matt Grisier (COL ’16) decided not to break from tradition.
“I wasn’t going to come to [the play] with some sort of radically new interpretation,” Grisier said. “It was going to stay true to what the show was written about and how these fairytale characters were represented.”
Indeed, the characters of the original musical are portrayed by the student actors with faithful vigor. During the first act, the audience is introduced to characters that for the most part adhere to their stereotyped stories. However, act two launches into a completely different universe, governed not by coddling tropes of destiny and righteousness but by unforeseen karma and mere chance that wreak havoc on the once peaceful kingdom.
The complexity of the source material in “Into the Woods” was not the only challenge in putting together such a large production. Written by Stephen Sondheim, who created the music score for Broadway’s “Sweeney Todd” and the lyrics for the classic “West Side Story,” the play has a 2 1/2 hour runtime that tests the cast and crew’s communication, synchronization and vocal endurance.
Money and space were notable difficulties facing Mask and Bauble for this particular play, and although for the most part the cast and crew craftily overcome these limitations, some signs of this restrictive process poke through. While some of the costumes are laudable, such as Cinderella’s impressive three-outfit wardrobe change over the course of the play, others, like Rapunzel’s two short, purple dresses — one version intact, the other tattered — seem markedly anachronistic.
“There are definitely some things that are slightly more modern and can be left open to interpretation as to whether they fit that time period. It’s kind of amorphous anyway, as it’s not really set anywhere that this show has to take place in 1820 or 1900,” Grisier said.
The production’s location in Stage III of Poulton Hall, by the nature of its small design, falls prey to sound problems during the performance. Despite this drawback, Barnes said Stage III provided a unique experience not available in most other settings.
“I loved the movie. I also saw ‘Into the Woods’ at a local community theater. I just think the stage version is different than the movie because [the movie] doesn’t include everything. It is a long show, but it is engaging,” Barnes said. “The characters are so relatable that it’s exciting being in that same room, especially a black box theater, since it’s so intimate.”
Although the production prides itself on sticking to the source material of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” Mask and Bauble’s spring musical stands out for the club’s capacity to stretch a small black box stage into an imaginative world as complex as our own. The play will run in Poulton Hall tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., April 20 to 23 at 8 p.m., and April 17 at 2 p.m.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Though no love triangle is without emotional complication, the addition of a feigned gender, a concealed identity and a narrative of revenge quickly transforms a simple complication into uncontrollable chaos. Just ask Viola — she would know — or Cesario — he certainly knows too.
Over the next two weekends, one of literature’s most complicated and chaotic love triangles is set to unfold onstage in the Gonda Theatre, as the Georgetown University theater and performance studies program and Black Theatre Ensemble will put on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” directed by Maya E. Roth.
“Twelfth Night” tells the story of Viola, played by Nona Johnson (COL ’17), who disguises herself as a young man, Cesario, in order to work for Duke Orsino, played by Caleb Lewis (COL ’16). Viola soon finds herself falling in love with Orsino, although thwarted by the barrier of her projected image. Only adding to the madness, the Duke’s love interest, Olivia, played by Maddie Kelley (COL ’16), falls wildly in love with Cesario, unaware of his alternate ego. A complicated web of relationships grows from there and thus begins “Twelfth Night.”
Although the absurdity of this romantic chase will leave audience members wanting to shake the characters from their ignorance, the promise of adventure is too addicting to interrupt. The play also confronts serious messages of plurality and diversity that are poignantly relevant, especially today.
“I chose ‘Twelfth Night’ in honor of our tenth anniversary season because it is a celebratory play, a comedy that is also profound,” Roth wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It explores love, loss and cultural crossings, at core, and it is profoundly playful, like a dream that remixes loss into connections. There are gender crossings, cultural crossings, it is queer friendly, and it seems ripe for a hybridic imaginary.”
The set of “Twelfth Night” is a dynamic intersection of various levels and spaces, bringing life to the stage and keeping the focal point constantly in motion. A quaint, wooden bridge crosses over two pools installed into the floor, leading to a staircase that winds upward to a looming balcony. From there, the characters look out toward a powerful stained-glass aesthetic. Each feature of the stage assumes a distinct purpose, making every scene its own.
The actors themselves engage naturally with this fluid set by holding true command over their characters’ personalities and intentions. Each step is deliberate; each word is delivered with meaning. Despite the difficulty of the Shakespearian language, the actors convey their interpretations of each line with effortless precision.
Although the premise of the show centers on serious themes, the production still manages to be deliciously funny. Comedic moments are naturally woven into the complexities of the plot and give the production a unique quality. Whether it is Sir Andrew, played by Charlie Trepany (COL ’19), snacking on a rainbow-colored lollipop between lines or the quirky, rolled “R” accent of Malvolio, played by Alec Meguid (COL ’17), the hilarity of these characters makes them relatable.
“Shakespeare is amazingly fresh for being old,” Lewis said. “I think people will be surprised at how much they can really relate to it — the language is still kind of a barrier but, at the same time, it’s a strength because you get to hear things in a new way.”
In addition to the engaging comedy of the characters, the production assumes an individual style by incorporating music. Various live instruments are included such as piano, guitar, trumpet and saxophone, added to the beautiful, raw vocals of Olivia Duff (COL ’16) and Mar Cox (COL ’16), who both play the play’s clown and singing bard, Feste. The choice of contemporary songs such as “Killing Me Softly,” “Stand By Me” and even the “Pink Panther” theme song bridges the gap that can separate Shakespeare from modern theater. It makes this production feel welcome on today’s stage.
Each member of the cast and crew can attest to the originality of this “Twelfth Night.” It is sure to fulfill the avid Shakespeare lover while also adding new layers that are exclusive only to this stage.
“This is Shakespeare made live, lively and distinctive by Georgetown artists — faculty and students — for the here and now,” Roth wrote. “Come because this is Shakespeare’s most musical play and we have put our own spin on it. Come because you will laugh. And come because this show embraces pluralism and play, imagination and community.”
“Twelfth Night, or What You Will” will be showing from Thursday, April 14 to Saturday, April 16 at 8 p.m., Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, April 21 to Saturday, April 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 per student and $18 general admission on Friday and Saturday evenings and $7 per student and $15 general admission for all other performances. They can be purchased at the Davis Performing Arts Center or online at the department of performing arts website.
God & Country
We live in an age of technological development, one in which we constantly receive an influx of information from the news and social media. However, most news outlets only cover a story as long as it boosts their ratings. We forget what once brought us to tears, and adopt a new cause or injustice on which to fixate. To make a difference, though, we cannot afford to forget. This phenomenon is what the Rev. Khristi Adams focuses on in her play, “God & Country,” a production sponsored by the Protestant Ministry and the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation and starring nine Georgetown students. The play focuses on the Michael Brown shooting, the Baltimore protests, the Syrian refugee crisis and the Emmanuel Church shooting.
The core plot involves a radio show and its host, played by Aly Panjwani (SFS ‘19). Adams uses the radio host as a clever way to maneuver between topics and expose the role the media plays in our perception of events. The other actors sit on stools around the radio host and cut in and out of the action of the show as the host segues into different topics. Adams further incorporates the theme of technology through the use of cell phones. The actors constantly call in to the radio show or tweet responses between the performance’s action-packed scenes.
Through the docudrama genre, Adams is able to present an array of opinions including presidents’ speeches, activists’ accounts and other significant figures’ words. Further, her approach allows audience members to formulate their opinions independently; the play does not spoon-feed the audience a specific point of view. Instead, it acts as a mirror for the audience to see something of themselves.
Actor Kimberly Portes (COL ’16) said the play represents a composite opinion and does not favor the interests of one group over another.
“There is no religious or political agenda. No one point of view is shared. ‘God & Country’ is a re-enactment of recent tragedies in our nation, quotes taken from many instances and personal pieces from the cast,” Portes said. “No, ‘God & Country’ cannot be categorized for you under a certain group, faith or political party. This docudrama will leave you with questions, challenge your views and make you wonder what hate and love actually mean.”
The cast is comprised of student activists on campus including Precious Blalock (COL ’19), Katherine de Araujo (SFS ’18) and Jordan Knox (COL ’18). For some of these actors, “God & Country” is one of their first experiences participating in theater. What truly unites this group is a common passion for raising awareness of current events on campus, in the country and around the world.
From the show’s creative precision, one can see that Adams is an experienced playwright and director. She aims to combat global injustice with theater, not only in “God & Country,” but also in her earlier work, “Yesterday I Died,” which focuses on youth crime and was written an alternative form of lamentation. When her career took her to New York, she used “Yesterday I Died” again as a way to deal with similar issues there.
When Adams finally made it to Georgetown, she was encouraged to use this template once again to delve into the injustices that take place in the lives of the university’s students. However, she considered “Yesterday I Died” outdated and created “God & Country” to explore her unique Georgetown experiences.
“God & Country” is already sold out for its showing at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 15, but seats are still available for noon and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 17 and 7 p.m. on Monday, April 18. The performance will take place in St. William’s Chapel in Copley Hall with tickets sold at $15 for general admission and $5 with a Georgetown ID.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified a performer in a photo and attributed incorrect graduation years to two performers.