KC Kenney and Maria Smith | Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The Student Players have long been dedicated to bringing engaging and thought-provoking shows to Notre Dame’s campus, as well as sponsoring events such as the Freshman Four plays. By keeping a diverse repertoire, the Players are able to showcase student talent as well as give the community a taste of insightful and poignant theater.In the spirit of unity and activism, the Student Players also have taken on the campus issue of homosexuality, diversity and acceptance – a theme that has been expressed in many different mediums over the course of the past few years. In hopes to take a diverse look at various facets of a homosexual lifestyle, the Players have opted against one show this year and chosen two full-length shows. “Bent” is a look primarily at male homosexuality, set in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. “Stop Kiss” takes a more contemporary look at a budding homosexual relationship between two women in New York City. “It’s a huge issue on campus not being directly addressed,” director Cricket Slattery said. “The Standing Committee [for Gay and Lesbian Student Needs] does a good job. … [But] the rest of the country is talking about the University in a way that members of the student body aren’t happy with.”Stop KissMany efforts have been done to rebuke the stigma that came with the Princeton Review’s ranking of Notre Dame’s attitude of acceptance (or lack thereof), as well as a general campus nonchalance to the problem. At the same time, they hope to put on a strong show offering audiences a look at a slice of life, particularly oriented around the formation of a lesbian relationship and the struggles with living in New York.”It is a fabulous script from a great playwright,” Slattery said. “It depicts charming characters and will be an enjoyable night of theater.””Stop Kiss” opens with New York native, Callie, meeting small-town Missouri-girl Sara. Sara is the epitome of naivetÃ© – a third-grade teacher, she won her job in New York as a part of a fellowship. She has come to New York, it seems, to escape the controlling hand of her parents and ex-boyfriend. As the friend of a friend, Sara is sent to meet Callie because her apartment won’t allow her to keep cats. When she meets Callie, a smart and savvy radio traffic reporter, a new friendship quickly forms.The light-hearted concept of life in a new and big city, as well as new friendships and foreign feelings of attraction, is tempered by the interlocking future plot involving Sara being beaten into a coma as a result of violent “gay bashing.” Callie is at a loss when this newly forming relationship is met with such hardship on the first night they kiss. The interchange of scenes goes back and forth between the novelty and awkward growth of a friendship into something more and the police reports and hospital visits after the attack. Many different issues are touched on, including Sara and Callie’s unfamiliar feelings for each other, as both of them have traditionally been involved with men in the past. Emotion and conflict are found before and after the attack, as the characters struggle onstage with how to express their new found care for each other as well as Callie fights to keep Sara from returning to Missouri with her parents and ex-boyfriend. While Cricket Slattery signed on to direct this show, she was forced to confront one of a director’s worst nightmares – having an actress drop out of the show halfway into rehearsal. When the role of Sara became vacant just a day before winter break, the day before the cast had planned to have its first full run-thru of the show, Slattery had no choice but to step into the role of Sara, assisted in a great deal by her stage manager, Bryce Cooper. Cooper had a great deal to do with the success of this show and, Slattery shared, “if anyone owns this show, its Bryce.” He did a great deal to take over Slattery’s directing responsibilities as she worked to overcome the many problems with learning “Sara.””It was a pretty big blow to the cast,” Slattery said. “People had begun to start working as a group, and to lose a member of the community so suddenly was a shock to everyone.”This change had a huge impact on Carole Kennelly, who plays the role of Callie. It was a challenge “getting a rhythm down with one person and then having to change it,” Kennelly said. “It’s just a different Sara.”The intimacy and subtle sexual tension throughout this show is a significant challenge to both actresses, as they attempt to create something that is sincere and real, not “pornographic.” Kennelly seems to once in a while be unsure of herself as Callie, losing control of her cocky yet insecure nature. She goes back and forth from controlling the stage with confidence and overt sexuality to being intimate and sincere with a natural sense difficult to achieve with the fast scene changes. Slattery seems to relax more and more as her own character gains confidence throughout the course of the show. It is no doubt a struggle to balance the stresses of directing and appearing in the show. But other members of the company applaud her dedication.John Klein, who plays the Detective investigating Sara’s attack, shares that “Cricket’s done a great job of bridging the gap between acting and offstage with Bryce.” Klein himself is able to keep a fast pace and strong presence, pushing his interviewees along. Tom Degnan seems to fall back into the role of George, Callie’s oft-time lover, with relative ease, creating a character that is both likable and strong, while Layne Pantea effectively creates a stiff character from Mrs. Winsely, the woman that calls the police when the girls are attacked. Brendan McGirr, while he has a tendency to yell at Callie and the rest of the theater, is effective in creating a concerned but poorly sympathized ex-boyfriend from Missouri. Caitlin Rohn makes an appearance as a hospital nurse willing to take time to comfort Callie, and does so with a sweet, almost saccharine, effect.This show is a slice of life, a look at a handful of the many dimensions of not simply a homosexual lifestyle, but life in general. That realism is brought about in some very effective ways, particularly small and familiar conflicts that arise throughout the course of the budding or deteriorating relationships. Cast members hope audiences will go to see both shows in an effort to adequately take a more in depth look at various facets of living a homosexual lifestyle. “We’re not planning on people to come to this show and walk away saying ‘Gosh, I love gay people,'” Slattery said. “We just hope people will take a look honestly at these shows. [For example] behind the kiss that Sara and Callie share are two lifetimes. It is Christian charity to experience something before you discuss it. Truth is everyone’s most powerful weapon and its way under-utilized on this campus.”While the cast hopes this series of shows will spark continued discourse on campus, “Stop Kiss,” in conjunction with “Bent,” creates a poignant and engaging weekend of student theater.BentIf you look back through the annals of Notre Dame theatre history, it will be tough to find anything as stunning as “Bent.”The play by Martin Sherman tells a story about the life of Max, a gay man living in Nazi Germany. At the beginning of the play Max is living with his dancer boyfriend Rudy in Berlin. He spends his nights in clubs and his days finding ways to mooch money to pay his rent. When Max attracts the notice of the wrong crowd of people during a cocaine binge he and Rudy find themselves on the list of the Gestapo.In the second act the play explores the possibility of love within prison walls and under the eyes of guards. Away from the social scene of Berlin, Max has to discover new parts of himself and test his capacity for love is a place where, as one character says, moving rocks between a pit filled with dead bodies and a fence that can turn a person to dust is the best work. “Bent” is a far cry from other campus plays, and is as difficult for the actors as the audience. The characters are different from anything most of the actors have ever played.”It’s rough,” senior T.J. McNally said about his role as Max. “I’ve certainly never had to do anything like this before.”But the actors find it a welcome challenge.”This has definitely been the most important play I’ve been in,” sophomore Conor Woods said about the role of Rudy. “It made me proud to go to Notre Dame.”The actors in “Bent” do well with challenging parts. It is difficult to live up to the kind of role so similar to those played by Adrian Brody or Liam Neeson, and McNally and Woods show courage in taking them on. Sophomore Drew McElligott seems the most comfortable in the part of Horst, and he and McNally share a particular challenge in acting almost the entire second act with only two people. Were the parts filled by Brody and Neeson the play would almost be too heartbreaking to watch; as performed by the Student Players it is certainly not easy.”Bent” was chosen in conjunction with “Stop Kiss” to focus on problems faced by homosexuals, but director Mike Dolson wanted to find a play that would speak to Notre Dame students.”A lot of the plays are a lot about the AIDS epidemic,” Dolson said. “One thing I liked about this play at Notre Dame is that it deals with issues of intolerance acceptance, and love. It relates to Angels in America, but it relates to campus also.”Actors from the performance hope the play will educate students on an aspect of the Holocaust that is rarely mentioned. Prisoners with pink triangles, to symbolize homosexuality, appear alongside those wearing yellow stars, and even among other prisoners in the camp become a group that is sometimes shunned.”It will definitely be a surprise,” McNally said. “We find most people don’t come to the play having much knowledge of it, and I can see how people would be upset by it.””What I hope and think is that it will make audiences aware of a part of history people sometimes forget because it’s easier that way,” Woods said.McElligot seemed more confident about audience reactions.”I think it’s going to go over well,” he said. “It’s a talented cast crew, and they put on a good, solid show.Trends in anything can sometimes become overplayed, and it is possible the same thing will happen with plays addressing homosexuality. “Bent” is not the play to skip for fear that this has happened.
“Stop Kiss” will play tonight and Saturday. “Bent” will play Thursday and Friday. Both plays will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on the Washington Hall Mainstage. Tickets are $5 and are available in LaFortune or at the door.