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FTT productions present American Dream in comedic light

| Thursday, October 4, 2018

Starting Sept. 27 to Oct. 7, the Notre Dame Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) department is presenting two one-act plays through ND Theatre NOW! FTT will be presenting “WASP” by Steve Martin and directed by senior Najmeddine Harrabi and “American Roulette” by Tom McCormack and directed by senior Roisin Goebelbecker. Both plays present an absuridist take on the American Dream.

Harrabi said “WASP” is the story of a white family living in suburbia in the 1950s. The family is a stereotypical nuclear family and seems to caricaturize similar families from classic TV shows like “Leave It to Beaver.”

Courtesy of Roisin Goebelbecker
Students rehearse for the production of “American Roulette,” which is part of this year’s ND Theatre NOW! production.

However, Harrabi said that, as an absurd comedy, “WASP” plays with these stereotypes and brings some darker themes into the play. For an example, Harrabi said the wife knows her husband is most likely cheating on her and the daughter is being molested by her choirmaster. There are even some supernatural elements such as when the son has an imaginary friend from space that he sometimes talks to and the mother has a female voice that she talks to. The play also touches themes with the treatment of race in the U.S.

“I think that the ‘WASP’ specifically gives you a look not only into a WASP family of the times, but also a look into your inner self and encourages you to think about it and relate with the characters and to see how their struggles reflects your inner struggles,” freshman Alexis Moskala, who plays the mother in “WASP,” said.

“[‘WASP’] talks about familial issues in a very lighthearted sense, so it takes a look at what people depicted as the ideal family in 1950 and then kind of pokes fun at how that’s not really true and that there’s so much more,” sophomore Declan Grogan, who plays the father in “WASP” said. “The characters are all very real even though they’re all trying to live the stereotype of the ideal family. So, it’s kind of showing how we are real people who can’t be put into this … perfect home.”

“American Roulette” is the story of a white male and a white female interviewer who are interviewing a black applicant for a position at “the firm,” junior Eileen DiPofi, who plays Hillary, the female interviewer, said.

“Things take a turn, so it’s definitely not a conventional interview but it’s more or less like a commentary on how race is a barrier to the American Dream,” DiPofi said.

The productions are not unique just in their take on the American Dream, but also for the opportunities these productions provide to students. Both productions are student-directed, which Grogan said was a fascinating process.

“It’s really cool because we are all learning at the same time so the director, he was so different,” Grogan said. “He was literally just like thinking about the play as we were rehearsing it. … It was just a very improvisational rehearsal. He did a great job.”

Harrabi said his acting professor encouraged him to apply because of his interest in comedy and directing.

“Basically the whole idea of the program is to get students to direct an entire project, have a say to the first thing, casting, to the last thing,” he said. “It’s such a great opportunity because a lot of the time, students do act. You rarely find a student directing.”

Harrabi said it still makes him nervous to be a director.

“I’m a senior; I’m a foreigner,” he said. “I grew up in Tunisia my whole life basically and then trying to take on a comedy in a foreign language in a foreign country. … I was very scared. I have never directed and I have never directed on this scale and I have never directed this many people. The more you get going, though, you understand why you shouldn’t be scared … because it’s a collaboration and you’re not supposed to do everything on your own. … [It’s] a lot of teamwork.”

Harrabi said that his professors were a huge help with fixing any problems that arose. He also said Adel Emam, an Egyptian actor, is an inspiration for his interest in theatre and comedy.

“I grew up watching these black and white and very old plays that were recorded and they always showed them over and over the years because they didn’t have much programming and those were really hilarious,” he said. “To this day I watch those plays and I just laugh, which is crazy because I’ve been watching them ever since I was a kid and the jokes are just as funny and it sounds so unreal because you watch a lot of specials and eventually you stop laughing because you know the jokes. Like I know the jokes by heart, and I still laugh at them. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to make comedy and theatre just the way they did it because it blew my mind. … I want to make theatre for the people.”

Goebelbecker said one problem came from a lack of actors of color auditioning for ND Theatre NOW.

“That was definitely a challenge because one of the characters needs to be black,” she said in an email. “It all ended up working out, though, because we have an amazing actress playing the role. We also had some difficulty at the beginning piecing apart the script and figuring out a motivation for each character that made logical sense. We spent the first week all together asking questions and brainstorming possible solutions and so that challenge actually ended up being really exciting and fruitful in the long run.”

DiPofi said both shows will make people think.

“I think [‘American Roulette’] tackles issues that we talk about a lot in our society in a way that maybe we don’t like to talk about,” she said. “Like the idea especially that, ‘Hey, American Dream isn’t necessarily something that’s achievable for everybody.’ I think its really going to force the audience to think critically about their own role in maybe perpetuating racism in the U.S. … It will definitely make people think and then turn that critical eye that the play is suggesting on themselves.”

“American Roulette” and “WASP” have performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

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