Sex, drugs and growing pains (no rock and roll)
It seems appropriate, in previewing a play about masculinity, to begin by quoting the iconic text for young men, Fight Club: "Self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction..." It seems the project of youth is to interrogate the possibilities that ellipsis opens up. This drive is in a symbiotic relationship with an audience's desire, since nothing quite entices us like watching someone self-destruct, especially when it involves sex, drugs and young people.
The Theater and Dance Department will be staging Ken Lonergan's This is Our Youth, about three wealthy young people with time to kill and money to spare. Although the play is a study in masculinity, it deals with subjects that would strike close to home for anyone who is currently experiencing or has already experienced the birthing pains of growing up.
Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Todd Coulter will be making his directorial debut at the College with the staging of this play. He described it as a more contemporary piece that generationally carries more currency with the student body, in terms of themes explored and characters involved. "You get to see something on stage that you have access to. To see people who are of you, doing stuff you can relate to, makes it much more powerful, and more immediate" Coulter said.
The play involves a small cast of three actors: Alex Bassett '10, a regular of Colby's theater scene, in the role of Dennis, Charlie Diamond '12 as Warren and Ali Reader '12 as Jessica. However, many students have been involved at all stages of the production, in charge of lighting, set design and stage managing. Having a small cast has allowed Coulter to work very closely with the three actors and to "give much more consistent attention to different aspects [of the process]." He has been able to "work with the students in an intimate and intensive way." In coaching the actors, Coulter described the play's difficulty in its sheer imbalance of "testosterone levels."
He said, "Lonergan writes the young male voice incredibly well. The speech patterns, cadences, lexicon of these guys is dead on." As such, there is a lot of pressure on Reader's character, Jessica, who as a woman, is never allowed to feel comfortable in the world of the play. However, Coulter credited Reader with "fighting back just as hard as the guys would give it to her in the context of the script."
The play as a whole does not give its actors any respite. With only three roles, the play is very text-heavy and the way in which it has been deliberately constructed does not leave any room for mistakes. "Charlie [Diamond] doesn't leave the stage from the moment [his character] comes on. Alex [Bassett] has lengthy monologues," Coulter said of the performance.
"The pacing of the play just goes; it's not one of those plays, where if you forget a line, you can ad-lib. It's very calculated, very rhythmical, the position, the rate, the order of the words. The person you're in the scene with is left high and dry [should something go wrong]." However, Coulter recognized and credited the three actors' hard work and attentiveness to the sensibility of the play.
The play is equally demanding from a technical perspective. Light designer Annie Beich '10 designed the lighting to suggest the naturalistic lighting that comes from an apartment. As such, there are 86 light cues in this play which stage manager Blythe Miller '10 must make sure go off without a hitch.
While Coulter as the director is in charge of artistic decisions, he said the students have to be able to tell us no. They work collaboratively but maintain their own authority and their own voice in their own work." In the end, it will not be the director's show, and his hand in the production should be unrecognizable. "I want people to go in and focus on Ali, Alex, Charlie and the student designers, and Blythe who is calling the show," Coulter said of the final product.
The previous excellent work of these actors and the department coupled with the inherently fascinating substance of the play, promises for an exciting and intense performance. The play begins Thursday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m., with subsequent shows on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. in Strider Theater.