The School for Lies
By David Ives
Directed by Tricia Rodley
The School for Lies may not suit all appetites, especially those who prefer a dainty classical comedy. If you are willing to unsettle your expectations, David Ives offers up a not-so-delicate combination plate – the messy, delicious kind that just might spill on your favorite shirt.
Ives has adapted Molière’s The Misanthrope. Having loved Molière for a long time, as something of a purist, I was wary of a script that takes liberties with his play. Ives turned my expectations around. He honors Molière (and Shakespeare) as well as his own comic sensibility. I’ve come to think of this play through the frame of one of its lines: “A loud-mouthed bull admid love’s fragile china” – majestic, clumsy, hoity-toity, vulgar, unexpectedly heartbreaking.
The play is set in Paris, 1666. The cast and production team have engaged with historical settings, costumes, music, lighting, etiquette, and so forth, while also experiencing this period through contemporary eyes, ears, and bodies. This soufflé – as Ives calls the play in its opening lines – creates a comedy spectrum. We have explored rhyming wordplay, satire, physical comedy, farce, and even moments when the bottom drops out, suspending our senses of humor.
We welcome you to our Paris, our 1666. Ives opens a dialogue with Molière, and we invite you to join this raucous and crucial conversation about the comedy-worthy facades we build and break in our daily lives.
Water By the Spoonful
Directed by Theresa May
I was fascinated by Quiara Alegría Hudes’ play for its lively and layered exploration of the shape of contemporary life. As I watch my students’ heads bow down over their small screens of connection, I marvel at how we live in simultaneous worlds—one material, one virtual. Our online communities are vital parts of our lives, connecting us with family, friends, and colleagues around the world; providing not only information, but relationships, and even avenues for healing. In this world of “free jazz”, where the virtual world seems as present and powerful as the material one, the play nevertheless asks us to come together in actual time and space, to be physically present to witness the stories before us. The stories here are about family and community, about old wounds and long-term healing.
On a recent campaign stop Hillary Clinton asked an audience for a show of hands: who here has someone in their life who is affected by addiction? Almost everyone in the room raised their hand. I imagine a similar showing might happen in this audience. Hudes’ play takes us on an unexpected journey into some of the dynamics of addiction and recovery, reminding us that addiction is not a personal failing, and that recovery takes a village. She invites us to examine some assumptions about addiction. “That little rock doesn’t discriminate,” Chuttes & Ladders says, but we know that it does. We know about high rates of addiction and its correlation to PTSD in young people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; we know that our armed forces are populated by young people with fewer economic and educational opportunities; we know that recovery looks different depending on a person’s economic status; we know that drug laws are unevenly enforced, and that our jails and prisons are overfull with young people of color caught under “three strikes you’re out.” What might it mean to respond to these statistics as if they were about members of our own family, community, or workplace?
This is a play about community, family, friendship, and forgiveness—all necessary elements of healing—and especially about parenting. In a fractured world, we parent forward in time, but also backwards, and even sideways. We may parent not only our children, but the children of others. We may need to forgive and parent our own parents, even as we forgive and re-parent ourselves. We may parent friends, neighbors, or co-workers in some critical moment when our presence—virtual or material—might make a difference. Each act of kindness, moment of listening, offer of thoughtful support or forgiveness, like a spoonful of water, matters in ways we may never know. In the end, the play seems to suggest, we still need “a place to sit our communal asses” where we are loved, known, supported. Sometimes that place is in the theatre.
By Wajdi Mauawad
Directed by Michael Malek Najjar
A Shared Responsibility
“Some of this stuff is so raw that it will take time for artists and playwrights and poets to work on it, but work on it they must.”—John Sweeney, BBC Journalist, on art and war
Scorched is a play about memory, trauma, and the desire to transcend suffering and find grace. As the son of Lebanese immigrants who were forced to leave their native homeland in the 1940s and 1950s, I was drawn to this play because it is written by a Lebanese-Quebecois son of Lebanese immigrants who were also forced to leave their native homeland during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1991). Mr. Mouawad and I share a tragic and difficult history. My mother told me of a time when, as a new young nurse, she was working in a hospital during the 1958 Civil Crisis in Beirut. During the hostilities that ensued, nurses had to pile the dead bodies on one another because they could not take them to the morgue for fear of being killed on the way there. My wife, also a Lebanese immigrant, told me of the time when, during a particularly terrible shelling of Beirut, she and her family fled to an underground garage which was subsequently hit by an unexploded ordinance. Three children died and my mother-in-law, along with many others, was seriously injured. Similarly, Mr. Mouawad states that he witnessed the massacre of Palestinian school children on a school bus in 1975, the seminal event that set off the fifteen-year civil war.
Wajdi Mouawad was born to a Lebanese Christian family in 1968; I was born to a Lebanese Druze family in 1972. Had his parents not immigrated to Canada, and mine not immigrated to the United States, it is entirely possible that we would have had to engage in the civil war; he for the Christians, and I for the Druze. It is entirely possible we would have been in opposing militias fighting, and perhaps killing, one another. Mouawad says that, after the Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated in 1977, he recalls everyone in his village dancing in joy. “I didn’t know the guy, but I danced on the occasion of a man’s death!” he says. “I was happy, because we had been taught that the Druze were all evil.” Growing up, I heard similar words of hate by Lebanese I knew, directed at other Lebanese Christians and Muslims.
I tell you this because it demonstrates the insanity of civil war and how, by chance and circumstance, one can either be engulfed in a war or could live a life in exile thousands of miles away from war. In the play Scorched, Nawal tells Sawda, “We don’t like war, and we are forced to be part of it. We don’t like happiness and we are drowning in it.” Mouawad and his family, like my own family, were exiles. The condition of exile is what Edward W. Said called, “a condition of terminal loss.”3 I remember the days when news was broadcast about another massacre, another bombing, another attack, how my parents were visibly shaken and disturbed knowing their homeland was being destroyed and that their families were in danger. In America they suffered discrimination in their adopted homeland because they had foreign accents and customs. They could not go back to Lebanon because of the war, and they could not really live in peace here either. “When you become an exile,” Mouawad says, “you become ‘The Other.’ You become the person that you detest, that you don’t understand, that is a stranger.”4 Looking back now, I see that my parents were strangers in this strange land we call America.
I originally wished to direct this play in 2012 as my artistic response to the horrific Syrian Civil War, but the agency that holds the rights to the play refused our request to stage the drama. Here we are, four years later, and the play is as poignant and prescient as it ever was. It is one of life’s horrible ironies: during the Lebanese Civil War, the Lebanese would flee to Syria to be safe. Now, Syrians have to flee their homeland or die. Here are some statistics, as of February 9, 2016:
The life expectancy in Syria has fallen from 75.9 years five years ago to 55.7 years today.
Estimates of the death toll are now at more than 270,000 people—thousands more than those killed in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Four million refugees have fled Syria.
Seven million Syrians are internally displaced.
80 percent of Syrians live in poverty; 30 percent of the population live in abject poverty.
Four million Syrians are out of school or have no formal education at the moment.
83 percent of the country’s electricity has been cut.
In 2016 alone, over 400 Syrian refugees have died, or are missing, crossing the Mediterranean Sea.6
These horrifying numbers attest to this terrible civil war. We must remember that, behind these staggering statistics are men, women, and children who are not unlike us in their desire for safety for their children, for safe neighborhoods, for enough money to live comfortably. Sadly, by the time you read this program, these terrible numbers will have increased. How many refugees live now as exiles? How many carry the physical and emotional scars of war?
What are we to do? How much money do we need to send? Would it help to go to the area and help? Can directing a play about such an overwhelming calamity do anything, or is it an obscenely futile gesture that changes nothing? In this election year where we are being urged to build walls, to refuse refugees, and to fear those who do not look or pray like us, perhaps a play like this can be more than an absurd attempt to create art in the face of such destruction. Or, perhaps, we can be called upon ourselves to develop a radical empathy for those who are suffering, and dying, in war zones worldwide. I’ve asked the actors you see before you to not only “play characters” but to take on the joys, sufferings, triumphs, and defeats of their characters. They have rehearsed their roles for months now, and have made an enormous effort in this kind of radical empathy. This production will ask you in the audience to do the same. After all, what is theatre for if not to help us, for these brief hours we are together in this darkened space, to overcome ourselves?
Instead of growing up in Lebanon, Mouawad and I grew up in North America—he in Quebec and me in New Mexico. Instead of learning to hate one another’s religions, we learned to respect the religion of the other. Instead of picking up arms and fighting in a war, we picked up pens and created theatre. He wrote a play about the horror of civil war, and here I am directing that play for you now. I’ve never met Mr. Mouawad but I feel that we are connected somehow—thematically, artistically, and spiritually. In Scorched, Nawal tells Nihad,
You and I come from the same land, the same language, the same history, and each land, each language, each history is responsible for its people, and each people is responsible for their traitors and their heroes. Responsible for their executioners and their victims, for their victories and their defeats. In this sense, I am responsible for you, and you are responsible for me.7
Perhaps, in some strange way I am responsible for Mr. Mouawad, and he is responsible for me. It is this shared responsibility for others that inspires me to return to the theatre again and again.
Directed by Zeina Salame
In her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl explains that she finds it “inexplicably moving to walk backstage while the audience is still in the house.” She offers an observation of the curtain, the grand drape we know so well, saying “It is often the back of the tapestry that turns out to be more beautiful than the front” being able to see all that work…” Here, Ruhl shares that it is not just the spectacle the audience sees that is magnificent – but that what goes on behind that, what does into the making of it, is exquisite too. And so the makers and making of theatre itself become Ruhl’s muses in Stage Kiss.
In this play, Ruhl explores how the roles we perform on stage inform and inspire the roles we play in life. Amusingly, Stage Kiss had an unexpected surprise in store for us. Just as the worlds within the play become unclear for the characters, in our making of the play, the worlds also began to blur. Rehearsing a “rehearsal process” as actors playing “actors” and “stage hands” and a director directing a “director” often lead to comic confusion and delight. Just by living our lives we found ourselves accidentally saying the lines of the play, but in earnest, as necessary ways us theatre-folk get our work done. I hope and suppose Sarah Ruhl had this in mind all along.
Stage Kiss weaves romantic comedy with postmodernism through a bricolage of theatre references and styles. It offers a relatable story while also challenging its characters, its makers, and its witnesses to ask: What is real? Furthermore, Ruhl layers in a feminist mindedness, the play asking another bug question of theatre and of society —What roles are women being asked to play?
In the script, Ruhl offers this dedication – “For actors, For first loves.” I would extend that love to all theatre makers engaged in our odd and enchanting business of truth and pretend. Love is often especially complicated in theatre. As one characters reflects, “What a strange job to kiss strangers in front of people and make it look like you know each other. Or kiss someone you know in front of people and make it look like a stranger.” This special quality of theatre matched with our devotion to the craft can be a little all consuming. We often joke, “We can’t. We have rehearsal.” So, Sarah Ruhl wrote us a love story.
Ruhl prefaces the script with the following quote from philosopher, Iris Murdoch: “Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” Like the “back of the tapestry” that Ruhl described, when looking at love, it is what happens behind, the stuff that you don’t always see, and all of the work that goes into it, that makes it so especially beautiful.
Wonder If, Wonder Why
Directed by John Schmor, Devised by UO students
This production was devised by a company of UO students (not all of them Theatre Majors), starting with a class in Winter term (January through March). We were experimenting every day in class, trying out half-baked ideas, staging newly written material, arguing sequence and structure, chasing dead-ends, welcoming happy accidents. We benefitted greatly from guidance and observations by two graduate students: Margot Glaser, set designer, and, “scribe” Jessica Rogers. We had workshops from guest artist Rebecca Lingafelter (member of the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble) and UO Physics magician Stanley Micklavzina. Our costume and lighting designers made several visits. By the end of the term, we had a rough draft of the script governed by an outline of the scientific method with some scenes fully written, some acts only hinted, musical ideas sketched. Rehearsals began Spring term, on April 11. Our costume and lighting designers continued to play with us, bringing in mock-ups, offering new ideas. Our projection/sound designer, Professor Bradley Branam, assigned different projection challenges to his students in this quarter’s Topics in Projection Design. We cut, we added, we re-structured. We played, we worried, and we learned – a lot.