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Bright Ideas Serves a Greater Purpose

Analise Lipari | Friday, December 5, 2008

Starting tonight in the Washington Hall Lab Theater, Sorin’s Theater for Charity will present its production of Eric Coble’s “Bright Ideas,” a dark comedy version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, “Macbeth.” The founder of Sorin’s Theater for Charity, John Maltese, recently spoke to the Observer via e-mail to discuss the production, as well as the beneficiary of the show’s ticket sales, St. Jude’s Primary School in Uganda.

Scene: Can you give us a synopsis of “Bright Ideas?”Maltese: “Bright Ideas” is a dark comedy spoof of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” I view it as a critique of our current education system. Nowadays, every Notre Dame student could relate to how stressful it is to try and gain acceptance to a selective university. Eric Coble, the playwright, turns that idea on its head, by allowing to new parents, Joshua and Genevra Bradley, to get caught up in the same high-anxiety application process, but on behalf of their three-year old son, Mac.

“Bright Ideas” is actually a highly selective pre-school, and after reading a few too many parenting guidebooks, Josh and Gen get it in their heads that if Mac doesn’t go to the right preschool, he will be ruined for life. In a desperate attempt to get him in off the waiting list, the parents decide that the only way to give Mac “a shot in life” is murdering the mother of the boy who got in ahead of him.

After plotting the perfect crime, Josh and Gen decide that the only way they can kill the [mother] and make it look like an accident is to invite her over for dinner and poison the pesto. “Bright Ideas” is a hilarious tale about how most times, the grass is not greener on the other side. As Josh and Gen deal with new-found power, conflicting desires, and their own insecurities, chaos ensues.

Scene: Why did you choose this play? Maltese: I chose the play because I thought that the high-pressure attitudes about getting the “best opportunities” and ensuring success through education were reflective of issues most students at Notre Dame can relate to today. The play also has all sorts of comedic elements that I thought would make for an entertaining hour and 45 minutes for student audiences. The minimalist staging was also convenient, since we try to keep a low budget to allow for the maximum amount of proceeds to go towards our charity.

Scene: What are some highlights from the performance?Maltese: Sorin’s rector, Father Jim King, C.S.C., plays two parts -a nerdy, “Office Space”-esque boss) and a crusty old athletic director, Coach Angus. He does amazingly well in both parts in his theatrical debut. He steals the show. Also, Shay Thornton and Matt Goodrich, seasoned FTT students, drive the show as Josh and Gen, appearing in almost every scene. In the short two-week rehearsal period they each memorized a full length play and have created characters that you can see develop onstage as they [grow] from concerned parents to psychotic killers.

“Bright Ideas” is cast of 10 performers conveying nearly 20 different characters. Each character is quirky and unique, from Miss Caithness, the over-the-top drama teacher, to Mrs. Lennox, who can only speak to other parents using hand puppets, to the flamboyant airline steward who engages in an in flight confrontation with Genevra over her cell phone use.”Bright Ideas” represents every current class at Notre Dame, and also includes students from Saint Mary’s.

The biggest highlight is the good cause that this play is all about. My number one goal is selling out every night and raising over $6,000 for St. Jude’s Primary School.

Scene: Can you tell us more about Sorin Theater for Charity and St. Jude’s? Have you put on any previous plays for the same cause?Maltese: I started Sorin Theatre for Charity last year in our inaugural showing of “Rumors” by Neil Simon. The play involved constructing the largest set that has ever been used in the Lab Theatre, a two-story set with five doors. The play ran two nights in the Lab theatre and sold out each night … We were turning people away at the door because of fire codes. This year we are back with seven nights of performances to avoid that problem. I took an interest in Sorin’s sponsorship of St. Jude’s when I was selected to teach their last summer through the International Summer Service Learning Program through the Center for Social Concerns.

I wanted to show I was serious about my decision to teach at St. Jude’s – Sorin sends one Otter there every summer – and I wanted to use my knowledge and love of theatre, as a Theatre/Philosophy major, to do some good in a personal way. I assistant directed – alongside Chelsea Moore, who is acting in “Bright Ideas” and acted in “Rumors” – and this year I am directing “Bright Ideas.”

St. Jude’s is a primary school that needs a lot of help. It is located in Bugembe, which is a rural, poor community in eastern Uganda. Walking around to various schools, one of the hardest things to hear when talking to principals of schools was their answer to my question: “What is your greatest need? What could help your school out the most?” One administrator responded: “Money, so we can feed our students.” He didn’t ask for Powerpoint projectors, white boards, or a higher salary. He didn’t even ask for pens and textbooks, which students there don’t have either. But he asked for food.

That blew me away, and proved that we need to keep working for the people there. A number of the students are also HIV-positive, and the school can’t afford to give them proper nutrition, let alone pay for counseling or other appropriate actions. Many students are simply sent home because their parents cannot afford to pay their school fees.

Our number one priority is to fill those seats in the audience so we can give St. Jude’s the tools they need to make their good school even better.

Tonight’s performance will begin at 8 p.m. in the Lab Theater of Washington Hall, and will continue through Thursday, Dec. 11. Tickets cost $7 for students at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. The theater is located on the third floor of Washington Hall.