Behavioral and psychological questions are at the center of many of the issues facing our generation. This year, Georgetown theater productions dove into these complex concepts, working to expose and understand problems of varying intensity. The plays “Hamlet,” “A Mouthful of Birds,” “Proof” and “Doubt” explored the darker areas of our not-so-perfect lives. Most Georgetown students have likely studied the depth of characters in “Hamlet,” but without much emphasis on why we should care. Through his time playing Hamlet on stage, Addison Williams (COL ’14) said he further discovered why those lessons stay relevant outside the English classroom. “Shakespeare and his stories transcend the divisions of time, culture, politics,” Williams said. It is for the sake of this timelessness that theater and performance studies professor Derek A. Goldman, who directed the play, decided to shift his version of “Hamlet,” which ran in November, to a 21st-century setting. Social media was thrust into the already complex web of emotions, bringing out the darker elements of the play by relating them to the potential dangers of the online world corrupting real lives. “The moment our modern interpretation clicked for me as resonant of the universal issue was when someone related the feeling Hamlet experiences of paranoia, of standing on the outside of a collective secret he cannot penetrate, to the feeling one gets when people are texting around him,” Williams said.
While “Hamlet” emphasized the theme of paranoia through the use of modern technology in a contemporary setting, “Doubt” did just the opposite. The preservation of the 1964 setting became integral in developing its plot. Williams, who also alternated playing the character Fr. Flynn, found intriguing psychological questions in the play, which was performed in April. “When Mrs. Mueller suggests that ‘sometimes things aren’t black and white,’ her message reverberates throughout the many issues dealt with in the drama,” Williams said. “Characters confront issues of age (young versus old), philosophy (the onset of Vatican II), race (the play takes place in 1964), gender (the patriarchy of the church), sexuality (its many complications) and trust (when is it appropriate to trust and when must we be skeptical).” The play’s director, professor Mary Roth, ensured that this production emphasized the destructive nature of secrecy and manipulation through gossip. False appearances left the audience feeling constantly unsure of whom to trust, drawing them into the tensions being played out onstage.
“Doubt” reminded us how complex each person can be. Different motives and interpretations of events drive the characters in the story, and these contradictory opinions constantly clash. Likewise, “Proof,” performed in February, questioned our basis for assumptions. “Two really important issues the characters struggle with are how to balance the relational and intellectual sides of ourselves and how we decide who we trust,” “Proof” producer Allie Van Dine (SFS ’14) said. “Proof” also explored a psychological issue that resides close to the hearts of Georgetown students. “I think this campus on a whole has a really hard time striking the right balance between what makes us smart and what makes us human,” Van Dine said. In an intellectually driven environment, the pressure to succeed often trumps all else. “Proof” demonstrated that our education comes from our daily lives aswell as the classroom. However, the raw and strained performance by Katie Bellamy Mitchell (COL ’15) provided a haunting look at the dangers of extreme academic pressure. While these plays brought forward more widely acknowledged issues, “A Mouthful of Birds” explored topics often regarded as taboo during its run in January.
“The psychological and spiritual issues in ‘A Mouthful of Birds’ resemble illnesses that we are more familiar with — postpartum depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism — but these terms are never stated,” director Brendan Quinn (COL ’14) said. By portraying these complex mental issues through physical expression, the play confronted the audience with the dark struggles that appearances can usually conceal. “By symbolizing this inner struggle in another physical body, we can see someone’s deepest fears and psychological trauma literally sit at the kitchen table with the character; the issues at stake are not locked up in some unknowable or un-relatable mind,” Quinn said. From the traditional style of “Doubt” and “Proof” to the experimental vignettes of “A Mouthful of Birds” and the contemporary hybrid “Hamlet,” each play added a piece to the psychological puzzle. Characters in each play faced problems that are still wholly relevant to our own lives. Each production drew the audience into the conflicts on stage, leaving them unsettled by the unavoidable, intense psychological themes. Overall, this created a bold and intriguing year of theater.