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Students face sexuality in ‘Loyal Daughters’

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Developed out of the controversy stirred by the annual productions of the “The Vagina Monologues,” “Loyal Daughters” attempts to explore the varied experiences of individuals at Notre Dame, covering such topics as sexual assault, body image, alcohol use and University policies. Although covering many of the same general topics, “Loyal Daughters” stands out from Eve Ensler’s “Monologues” given its primary purpose as a direct response to and reflection of student life at Notre Dame.

Written and produced by senior Emily Weisbecker, the script for “Loyal Daughters” was created by piecing together more than 50 interviews that Weisbecker conducted with students, faculty and staff in the Notre Dame community. Stylized after “The Vagina Monologues,” “Loyal Daughters” follows the same monologue pattern, bringing 25 individual stories together to create a cohesive whole. Some of the pieces are designed with multiple actors interacting with each other, whereas others more strictly follow the monologue design with a single actor speaking out to the unseen audience.

Deftly and aptly directed by senior Madison Liddy, the mood of “Loyal Daughters” frequently shifts between funny and serious. Emphasizing the desire for the focus to remain on the stories themselves, the costumes and props are kept to only the minimal necessities – frequently only a couch or a chair. The lighting design, created by senior Ryan Retartha, subtly adds to this focus and sets the mood of each story being told. Further adding to the mood are the well-chosen music selections that play during the downtime between each of the sets, serving both to help reflect on the last piece as well as to prepare for the story to follow.

The intimate seating area of the Decio main stage allows for the audience to feel a very close connection with the actors. With its small balcony and relatively small amount of floor-level seating, it provides a well-formulated venue through which the actors are successfully able to interpret their varied and emotionally taxing roles for a welcome crowd.

The house lights are frequently left on during the production, often brightly enough that it is easy to forget that the actors are separate on the stage. This further blurs the distinction between audience and actor, causing many of the scenes to feel more like close conversations between friends. This lack of separation helps in creating the intensity of emotion that is pervasive throughout all of “Loyal Daughters.”

While some of the individual segments are funny and others are serious, there is no denying that each is thought provoking. “Loyal Daughters” seamlessly transitions between the humorous stories of a virgin at her bachelorette party to heart-wrenching stories of after-party rapes, to the hilarious song “Saved by Parietals” – a Notre Dame spin-off on the “Saved by the Bell” theme. One of the hardest pieces to watch is “Loyal Children,” a segment in which each actor delivers a single line summarizing the experience of sexual assault by an individual at Notre Dame.

The actors all do impressive jobs in the production, with many delivering tough, emotional pieces with convincing and heartbreaking performances. While many of the actors are familiar to Notre Dame student theater, there are also several new and promising faces. Standout performances included London Vale in “The Party Scene,” Jennifer Betancourt in “Touchdown Jesus” and Kathleen Hession in “21-Year-Old Virgin.” Easily gaining the most laughs was Emily Gorski’s endearing portrayal in “The Unicorn.”

“Loyal Daughters” gains its strength and emotional momentum from the nature of the stories themselves, as they deal with sensitive subjects and real people. The strength of the multiple-person cast across the board is a credit to the directors of the show.

With its performance strength, creative use of stark staging and overall emotional power, “Loyal Daughters” may prove to be an annual staple of theater and commentary on the Notre Dame campus.