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Loyal Daughters and Sons’ marches onstage

Tae Andrews | Tuesday, November 13, 2007

“Loyal Daughters and Sons” opens tonight in Washington Hall. Using a series of monologues (vagina or otherwise), dialogues and scenes that can – and do – happen at Notre Dame, the play opens a campus conversation about sexuality and sexual violence. Playwright and producer Sarah Van Mills’ script snaps as it moves along. It’s concise and to the point in describing the good, bad and ugly of campus hookup culture in a complex panoramic mosaic of sex and sexuality. Originally penned by Emily Weisbecker, about two-thirds of the script is repeated from last year’s show. After conducting interviews last spring, Van Mills inked the remaining third over the summer, adding new scenes to keep the play current. Much of the new material deals with the phrase “and sons,” which was added to the play’s title for this year’s production. “When I was writing new skits, I was always conscious of ‘how can I add a male perspective to this? Can I add a male perspective to this?'” Van Mills said in an email Sunday night. “The male perspective has to be included. This isn’t one gender’s issue.” She said the reasons for the new title were twofold: first, to include men who may have felt alienated from the play, and second, to acknowledge the direct role men play in many forms of sexual abuse. “Treating rape only as a women’s issue neglects the fact that men are most often the perpetrators,” she said. “Men have to address rape if there is ever going to be a real movement toward ending sexual violence.” Van Mill also said that trimming the stories for length, while remaining true to their original sources also presented a challenge. “I have to get some pretty detailed stories into about a page and a half of text,” she said. “This is hard to do for two reasons. One, because its a lot of text to cut out, but more importantly, these are people’s private stories. I want to make sure that I’m representing their stories correctly, which can be hard when you have to cut so much detail out.”On a campus known for its “work hard, play hard” party atmosphere, “Loyal Daughters and Sons” goes to lengths to shed light on the dark underside of college life when some play too hard or too rough. Rape and sexual violence are two recurring themes throughout the play. Van Mills and director Megan O’Donoghue do an excellent job of presenting vignettes of campus life that address these issues and remain Notre Dame-centric. ND students will no doubt recognize commonplace campus occurrences such as a “walk of shame” skit, in which a performer affects a hung-over air and drudges around onstage as a used and discarded sexual object. “Loyal Daughters and Sons” also features a substantial amount of time devoted to the “Notre Dame bubble” effect, in which harsh realities concerning the uglier parts of college life can sometimes take a while to seep into the consciousness of the student body. The plays attempts to burst that bubble of deluded apathy and ignorance with its graphic and sexual explicit descriptions of sexual violence. “Loyal Daughters and Sons” also addresses “blaming the victim,” a phenomenon in which rape victims find themselves accused of either facilitating their own sexual assault or putting themselves in such a compromised position (e.g., an excessively inebriated state) that they somehow “deserve” their fate. One particularly powerful skit that is tough to watch involves an impressionable freshman girl being raped by a football player in library. Alone in the spotlight and her thoughts, three men in black sweatshirts close in on her as she cries and screams for help. The play’s party scenes, filled with Solo cups, loud music and copious amounts of booze, highlight the key roles alcohol and drug abuse can play in illicit sexual encounters, both from the male and female perspectives. As one inebriated female victim puts it, “How can I call it ‘rape’ when I don’t even know what happened?”Even in a play with such heavy material, “Loyal Daughters and Sons” still manages to work some humorous skits into the mix, including a song and dance musical parody of the song “It’s All Right” dealing with parietals and a funny and creative Vagina Monologue.For the most part, “Loyal Sons and Daughters” features minimal props, opting for a mostly barren stage to better showcase the acting skills of the performers. However, the set does feature a few distinctive props – Main Building’s Golden Dome and the Basilica. One skit featuring an eccentric professor makes good use of biting satire to discuss the hypocrisy of du Lac’s punishment for sexual offenses, claiming that rape and consensual sex are equated in eyes of du Lac, since both result in dismissal and expulsion from Notre Dame. The skits also establish Notre Dame as a “rape-prone campus” due to its perceived macho jock culture, homophobia, binge drinking and lack of discourse about sexuality and violence. With such weighty subject matter, taking the material and making it their own presented quite a challenge for the cast members. However, director Megan O’Donoghue said the cast embraced the trying material rather than trying to distance themselves from it. “I think most of us came into the experience aware of play’s nature,” she said in an email. “My own approach and preparation, one that I imparted to my cast, was to connect with the material on some universally personal level. This way, even if I haven’t had the exact experience as one of the monologues, I can find some aspect of what that character was experiencing through their fundamental emotions. In doing so, any actor’s interpretation will be more honest and bring more dignity to the piece.” Van Mill agreed, saying, “This show is extremely, emotionally draining. But the cause makes it all worth it.” In between skits, the audience can hear the strains of several different arrangements of “Amazing Grace” which becomes a musical theme for the show. “‘Amazing Grace’ became a motif for the show after Sarah and I developed our joint concept for ‘Loyal Daughters and Sons,” O’Donoghue said. “Among the issues that we wanted to address, both realization and healing were key. Plus, the obvious religious and spiritual presence here on campus is pretty much unavoidable. ‘Amazing Grace’ simply encompassed all three of these issues in a really beautiful, classic way that most people should be able to recognize immediately.”Senior performer Jordy Brooks voiced a similar sentiment.”It’s always hard working with this material because all of the stories are based on interviews from the Notre Dame community, so they are all true accounts of what has happened on this campus,” she said. “To prepare yourself, you really have to look at it as healing for everyone, and realize that no matter how hard it is, talking about these issues is incredibly important.”Because of the silence surrounding the issues of sexuality and sexual assault, Loyal Daughters is an incredibly important new tradition at Notre Dame, because it allows people who have been silenced to have a voice and brings the issue to the forefront of conversation that many people would not have had before.”Senior Huyen Nguyen summed up her experience as a performer in the show.”This has been a really amazing experience for me,” she said. ” As ND students, I feel like we’re so sheltered that we don’t realize these kinds of things happen here in the ND bubble. Someone’s gotta tell these stories, and I’m glad I was able to be part of that.”