The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
Dallas homeless recovery center, The Bridge, is a home
Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Plays offer new perspectives

The SMU theater department’s first two plays of the fall semester have been exceptionally powerful. The performers’ mastery of diverse yet challenging works have provided insight into many of the relevant issues that affect students’ lives on a daily basis.

Earlier this fall, sold-out performances of “Stuff Happens” invited the political debates of the Bush administration out of academia and onto the stage. In two hours, 16 theater majors not only chronicled the events of Bush’s past seven years in office, but also enacted the opinions of nearly 50 government officials, journalists and civilians of multiple nationalities. These included prominent public figures such as George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell.

In the wake of the Bush Library debate, the decision to produce such a play was undoubtedly met with some controversy. While much of the play’s dialogue was taken verbatim from public addresses, the fact that some scenes were drawn completely from British playwright David Hare’s imagination suggested a bias. At intermission, two long-time season ticket subscribers called SMU’s decision to produce the play “very brave.”

Yet actors and audience members alike said they found the play to be remarkably impartial. This can largely be attributed to the extraordinary realism with which the actors imbued their roles. For example, if senior Carson Alexander, who played George W. Bush, had over-emphasized the president’s less articulate moments, the character could have easily been perceived as a heavily biased, controversial characterization rather than a person with both strengths and flaws.

Junior Bianca Denis, who played Condoleeza Rice, said that her biggest challenge was not letting her personal feelings about the issues affect the way she portrayed her character. Instead, she said she had to realize that “these people are just like us. They are making choices that they feel are the most effective.”

The department’s second play, “The Seagull,” was guest directed by Henry Woronicz. Written in 1895 by Anton Chekhov, “The Seagull” exemplified the playwright’s revolutionary idea that emotionally powerful stories could be found in the daily lives of ordinary people. There are no disasters (or possible weapons of mass destruction) to disrupt the lives of the ensemble of characters living on a Russian countryside estate.

Instead, each character told his own story about his greatest ambitions, deepest fears, passionate loves and devastating losses. The problems the characters faced such as unrequited love, struggles between parents and children, and regrets are those we continue to face today.

The characters were neither heroes nor villains. Instead, each character had a full range of complex emotions that changed in response to experiences throughout their lives. The characters in “The Seagull” weren’t public figures, but they quickly became just as recognizable. They were real people who embodied elements of our friends, families and selves.

“[The actors’] biggest challenge is finding the level of reality,” said Woronicz, explaining that realism encompasses the emotional complexity of an individual and the subtle ways in which each emotional layer is revealed.

Echoing the ideas of a multitude of artists, Woronicz said he felt one “could learn about [oneself] by watching the ‘real people’ in the play.” Indeed, because of the intense emotional realism created by the talented performers, the plays provided more than mere entertainment. Audience members were offered a chance to see elements of their lives such as love, ambition and politics from a new perspective.

Senior Travis Ballenger will direct the final play of the fall season, “Balm in Gilead,” running from Nov. 28-Dec. 2.

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