ND Theatre NOW
Caelin Miltko | Monday, October 3, 2016
Artistic criticism can take shape through either comedy or drama — and this year’s ND Theatre NOW plays explore both paths for instigating change.
ND Theatre NOW is an annual program run by the Department of Film, Television and Theatre. Every two years, a selection of one-act plays written by students is performed and directed by students. This year, the program features “In Paradisum,” written by senior Tori Babcock and directed by senior Jean Carlo Yunen Arostegui, and “The Pink Pope,” written by 2014 Notre Dame graduate and 2017 Master of Fine Arts candidate Taeyin ChoGlueck and directed by senior Mary Patano.
“In Paradisum” depicts a dystopian future, where all emotions are regulated by pills and no one, except the leader, makes any choices about their lives. The story is told as flashback, beginning with Sophia’s (Patricia Fernandez de Castro Samano) emotional breakdown and warning that choices have consequences.
The play trends toward melodrama as it seeks to explore the effects total control has on a society where no one is allowed to be unhappy or imperfect. It sometimes struggles to distinguish itself from other dystopias, but its finale, and the admission that even the leader knows that its Utopia is at least half-faked, certainly stand out.
The effect of the pills is at times unclear, though Roisin Goebelbecker’s final appearance as Emmy was particularly enlightening. As all the pill-takers did, Goebelbecker turned only at perfect right angles and her wide eyes and huge smile were disturbing after the melodrama of her previous scene.
The story itself is heavy and thought-provoking. The criticism it levies against medication in modern society is heavy-handed, but makes a point worth considering.
After the heaviness of “In Paradisum,” “The Pink Pope” was a much-needed comedic break. The archangel Gabriel (who goes by Bri) has a problem: Purgatory is full of men who refuse to accept a feminine God who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, but prefers she/her if given the choice between he/him and she/her.
To help solve her problem, Bri transforms the newly elected Pope Gerie into a female. On earth, Gerie is dealing with the “Feminist Ultimatum,” which has brought women from all over the world to protest the position of women in the Church.
Women perform all main parts of the play, and Zoe Alexandra Usowski (Bri/Vanto/Teddy) and Alexa Monn (Rudy/Father Tom) both have multiple speaking roles. Monn is particularly menacing as Father Tom, whose manipulations are both thought-provoking and disturbing.
Fauve Liggans-Hubbard is particularly strong as Maria, the slam poet who heads the Feminist Ultimatum movement. The incorporation of slam poetry into the play is wonderfully done, sneaking in some of the heaviest critiques the way only that particular medium can.
Notre Dame seems an odd place to host a play like “The Pink Pope,” which irreverently takes swings at the institute of the Church, mocks “white male fragility” and calls out Notre Dame specifically at times — the term “Menbroza” and the placing of the silent virgin Mary on top of a dome to name a couple.
Perhaps this makes Notre Dame the perfect place for “The Pink Pope.” It’s the kind of play that warrants discussion, no matter how it dresses up its commentary in laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s possible the play is only funny to those who sympathize with its argument — after all, its particular brand of menopause/period jokes probably only reaches a portion of the population.
Both plays supplement their thought-provoking storylines with rather wonderful soundtrack choices. “In Paradisum” ends with a particularly unnerving use of Ingrid Michaelson’s “Be OK” and “The Pink Pope” uses a girl-power playlist to best effect. In particular, the use of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero” was memorable.
ND Theatre NOW is on at DPAC’s Philbin Studio Theatre through Sunday. Tickets are $7 for students, $12 for faculty/staff/seniors (65+) and $15 general admission.