Josh Blue, the celebrated comedian who uses his own affliction with cerebral palsy as part of his routine, will perform in Easton at 7 p.m. June 14 at Lafayette College, Easton, Pa. The event is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, in cooperation with the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette, to celebrate LVAC’s yearlong Arts & Access program, a call for Valley arts organizations to be more inclusive of persons with disabilities.
Blue was the grand prize winner at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, has appeared on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and is a favorite on the college comedy circuit. He is known for his ability to improvise and encourage his audience to overcome preconceived notions about people who are labeled as “disabled.”
A recent L.V. Research Consortium survey revealed that more than 13 percent of the Valley’s population has a disability and that this population grows by about three percent per year.
“Josh Blue is the ideal ambassador for greater inclusion of the disabled,” says LVAC Executive Director Randall Forte. “We are overwhelmed at the success of the first year of Arts & Access, particularly with the enthusiasm of our participating arts organizations.”
Since June 14 is also Flag Day, the program has been tagged “Red, White and Blue.” Invitations are in the mail to Arts Council members and the clients of Lehigh Valley non-profit agencies serving clients with challenges such as blindness, deafness, autism and other disabilities. A limited number of tickets will also be available to the public, particularly for individuals with disabilities, by calling LVAC at 610-437-5915.
The event marks the culmination of the Arts Council’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The LVAC program was a response to a request by the L.V. Partnership for a Disability Friendly Community to encourage local arts organizations to reconsider how their offerings can better serve disabled individuals.
For example, the Josh Blue event will be interpreted by an American Sign Language practitioner, will be audio-described, and the hand-out program will be available in Braille and large print versions. LVAC offers arts groups assistance and lends the special equipment needed for audio description.
As a result of Arts & Access, 30 cultural organizations have teamed with social service agencies over the past year to provide greater accommodation at more than 50 disability-friendly events, including sensory-friendly performances for children with autism, movement classes for Parkinson’s patients, audio-described and open-captioned theatrical performances, lectures, exhibitions, poetry readings, film screenings, and public meetings. LVAC reports that as a result of Arts & Access 2015-16, 589 people with disabilities attended those events, accompanied by 705 family members and friends.
For supporting documents and materials, please click here: http://www.lvartscouncil.org/red-white-and-blue/
Allentown, PA – In 18th century Venice, Commedia dell’Arte was king. The classic theatrical style, which features masks, stock characters, and comic improvisation, was beloved by the nobility and working class alike, and trips to see the side-splitting misadventures of the masked characters were a vital part of the Venetian social scene.
Now, for the first time, a Commedia dell’Arte play will appear on the Muhlenberg College mainstage: Carlo Goldoni’s comic masterpiece “Servant of Two Masters,” directed by Muhlenberg theater professor Francine Roussel.
Presented by Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre & Dance, “Servant of Two Masters” runs Dec. 3–6 in the College’s Baker Theatre. Tickets and information are available at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre and at 484-664-3333.
A longtime teacher and practitioner of Commedia dell’Arte, Roussel says that modern audiences are consistently surprised by how relevant — and how funny — they find “Servant of Two Masters” to be.
“‘Servant’ is a comedy of all times,” Roussel says. “It doesn’t age, and humans are humans. We can all recognize ourselves in the 18th century stock characters.”
The play follows the misadventures of the scheming servant Arlecchino, who comes up with a plan to sate his legendary appetites: he will serve two masters at the same time, and thus receive twice the money and twice the meals. But serving more than one master could land him in deep trouble, so Arlecchino must hide his double life. Comedy unfolds against a Venetian backdrop of romance and deception.
The Commedia dell’Arte tradition dates back to the 1500s and is a direct precursor of today’s slapstick and sketch comedy. In fact, the word “slapstick” derives from a prop that Commedia actors use to hit each other as loudly (and painlessly) as possible. The modern Harlequin figure, with his familiar patchwork costume, also traces his roots to Commedia; the English name “Harlequin” and Italian “Arlecchino” both derive from the French “Arlequin,” and the character had already been around for more than 150 years by the time he appeared in “Servant of Two Masters,” in 1746.
“The character of Arlecchino is so unique, so endearing, and so energetic,” Roussel says. “Everybody wants to follow him wherever he wants to go.”
The role of Arlecchino will be played by Muhlenberg senior Henry Evans, an actor, dancer, and acrobat who co-founded Muhlenberg’s Circus Workshop in the spring of 2014. Evans will put his acrobat and juggling skills to good use in the production. He says that working on “Servant” has been similar in many ways to his circus performances.
“It’s like a juggling routine,” he says. “It’s this balance of keeping the tradition of Commedia, but at the same time putting our own spin on it, making it contemporary.”
For an undergraduate theater program, Muhlenberg has an unusual degree of connection to the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. Roussel frequently teaches a Commedia class, and a three-month, Commedia-centered program in Arezzo, Italy, is one of the most popular study abroad destinations for Muhlenberg theatre students.
Roussel holds Master of Arts degrees in both modern European and classical French literature from the University of Paris, La Sorbonne. She also earned the Certificat of L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, Paris, where she studied mime and mask. Roussel was part of the “Groupe des 50,” which established the Actors Studio in Paris. She has worked extensively in theatre and film in both Europe and the United States over the past several decades.
The production also features scenic and lighting design by Curtis Dretsch, costume design by Liene Dobraja, and fight choreography by Michael G. Chin.
Performances of “Servant of Two Masters” are Dec. 3 – 6: Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students. Performances are in the Baker Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance at Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.
Pottstown, PA — Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) West End Student Theatre and Theatre Arts program are proud to present “Fuddy Meers,” a comedy by Pulitzer prize-winning dramatist, David Lindsay-Abaire. Show dates are Thursday, Friday & Saturday, November 12, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m., with a special afternoon performance Friday, Nov. 13 at 12:30 p.m.
All performances will be held in MCCC’s South Hall Community Room, West Campus, 101 College Drive, Pottstown. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.mc3.edu/livelyarts or call 215-641-6518. This production contains adult language and themes.
“Fuddy Meers” is an entertaining, funhouse mirrors-type comedy. In it, when Claire wakes up each morning, her loving husband patiently explains that she suffers from a form of psychogenic amnesia that erases her memory every night when she goes to sleep. Life with a new blank slate every day seems to suit Claire just fine, but who is that limping man in the ski mask? Or his accomplice with the sock puppet? And why does he say her husband is trying to kill her?
“David Lindsay-Abaire’s play is wickedly fun, sometimes brutal, often quirky and ultimately sweet,” says director Tim Gallagher.
Directed by Gallagher, assisted by Carly Watson and stage managed by Morgan Carrasquillo, the cast includes Joe Donely, Michaela Santiago, Derek Peterson, Tess Devlin, Lexi Lyon, Erik Reyes, and Kayla Velasquez. The production is designed, produced and presented by the students of the West End Student Theatre (which includes Morgan Carrasquillo, Joe Donley, Shari MacNeill, Scott MacNeill, Tess Devlin, Zachary Clark, Christian Flint, Carly Watson, and Matt Giongo), under the guidance of Tim Gallagher and Christopher Kleckner.
Free parking is available. For directions, visit http://www.mc3.edu/about-us/directions-and-maps.
On February 14, 2015, Jeffrey Sweet, the author of “Court Martial at Fort Devens”, will be appearing at Steel River Playhouse in his one-man show, “You Only Shoot The Ones You Love”, a 75-minute yarn about how the Cossacks almost killed his grandmother and what that has to do with a generation of Jews bringing teeth and cojones (look it up) to American comedy. In response to Joe McCarthy, Nixon and HUAC, wits like Nichols and May, Alan Arkin, Shelley Berman, and Jules Feiffer (and Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks) invent modern American satire. For more information, click here.
Allentown, PA — Beth Henley’s Southern comedy “The Miss Firecracker Contest” opens Feb. 18 at Muhlenberg College, with a cast of six college seniors. Director Francine Roussel says that the cast is ideally suited to convey the play’s themes of accepting ourselves for who we are in order to move ahead in our lives.
“Henley’s themes are really strong, but there is a lightness to her writing,” Roussel says. “The show is a comedy, almost to the point of farce, but at the same time, there are extremely moving moments where the characters are at a precipice, looking at their lives.”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” runs Feb. 18-22 on the college’s Studio Theatre stage. Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/theatre and 484-664-3333.
Roussel says she selected the show because college students can relate to it — both those playing the characters and those watching in the audience.
“They are at a point in their lives where they are going to invent their life after college,” she says. “I think the play is at the core of what’s on their minds. What are their dreams? What are their concerns for the future?”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” tells the story of 25-year-old Carnelle Scott, known around her tiny Mississippi town as “Miss Hot Tamale” for a past that she would like to forget. She’s got flaming red hair, a sparkler between her teeth, tap shoes on her feet, and The Star Spangled Banner on the tape deck, not to mention a burning desire to win the crown in this year’s Miss Firecracker Contest — the annual beauty pageant in her town. Carnelle hopes a Firecracker victory will help her shake her tarnished reputation and leave town in a blaze of glory.
“All these characters are dealing with crucial rites of passage,” Roussel says. “You can laugh out loud, but at the same time realize how desperate the characters really are.”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” is Henley’s followup to her Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “Crimes of the Heart.” First produced in 1980, the play also explores themes of femininity and beauty.
Russell Norris plays Delmount, Carnelle’s older cousin who has just been released from an asylum. Norris says he and his character are quite different in many respects, but they are both people at a crossroads, learning all they can before they move forward.
“This process is the perfect culminating experience,” Norris says. “We’re all going out into the professional world so soon, and we’re all in it together. It’s really bringing us together as a cast, and we all have a similar goal to learn as much as we can in this last opportunity, and soak in the experience.”
Norris’s castmate Julia Garber, who plays Carnelle, agrees. But she also points out that, for all the play’s complex and dynamic characters, it is also very funny.
“I think the audience is going to laugh really hard,” Garber says. “It’s not just a crazy, Southern comedy, but a play that has a lot more depth. I can take a lesson from Carnelle to always stay hopeful and believe in myself.”
Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg’s production program in the top 15 in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.
Performances of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” are Feb. 18-22: Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC faculty and staff. The performance is intended for mature audiences. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 and muhlenberg.edu/theatre.
Headliner: Chris Coccia
Feature: Rubi Nicholas
MC: James Thomas
May 10th, 2014
Doors open at 7pm * Showtime is 8:15pm
Elks Lodge #814 * 61 E. High St., Pottstown
Contact the PAL office for tickets: 610-327-0527
Benefits ALL PAL Programs.
Snacks & Beverages provided along with sandwiches sold by the Elks Lodge. Come out for
some great laughs and lots of fun!
SPONSORED BY THE POTTSTOWN AREA POLICE ATHLETIC LEAGUE
Contains comedic sexual references. Please note – children under 4 will not be admitted to the performance.
Best known as the feature film, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Tony-awarding winning musical from legendary Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame) and the irrepressible Harvey Fierstein (Hairspray, Torch Song Trilogy, Mrs. Doubtfire). It’s the classic “guess-who’s- coming-to-dinner” set-up, but with a few complications!
Talk-backs with the cast and crew following the performance (Sundays 6/9 & 6/16).
Sponsored by Exelon Generation. Tickets: $15 – $26
www.steelriver.org or 610.970.1199
SCRANTON (AP) — The actors who play Pam, Jim, Dwight and other beloved characters from the popular NBC show “The Office” bade farewell on Saturday to the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Scranton that served as the TV setting for their fictional paper company.
The NBC mockumentary about a clan of quirky cubicle-dwellers at the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. wraps up May 16 after nine seasons, and a crowd estimated at 10,000 attended a “Wrap Party” in Scranton to show their appreciation.
Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and other stars rode in classic convertibles and posed for hundreds of photos as fans thronged around them. The stars later took the stage in front of the Lackawanna County Courthouse and played a concert with The Scrantones, the band that performed the show’s theme song.
Steve Carell, who played office boss buffoon Michael Scott, wasn’t expected to make an appearance but surprised fans at a celebration later outside the city at PNC Field, home of the New York Yankees’ Triple A affiliate, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune reported.
Jonathan Winters, the rubber-faced comedian whose unscripted flights of fancy inspired a generation of improvisational comics, and who kept television audiences in stitches with Main Street characters like Maude Frickert, a sweet-seeming grandmother with a barbed tongue and a roving eye, died on Thursday at his home in Montecito, Calif. He was 87.
His death was announced on his Web site, JonathanWinters.com.
Mr. Winters, a rotund man whose face had a melancholy basset-hound expression in repose, burst onto the comedy scene in the late 1950s and instantly made his mark as one of the funniest, least definable comics in a rising generation that included Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart.
Mr. Winters was at his best when winging it, confounding television hosts and luckless straight men with his rapid-fire delivery of bizarre observations uttered by characters like Elwood P. Suggins, a Midwestern Everyman, or one-off creations like the woodland sprite who bounded onto Jack Paar’s late-night show and simperingly proclaimed: “I’m the voice of spring. I bring you little goodies from the forest.”
Allentown, Pa. – For years, Muhlenberg College theater students have looked forward to working with Kevin Crawford, a professor at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. Now, Crawford brings his unique brand of physical theater to the Muhlenberg Mainstage with Ben Jonson‘s over-the-top comedy “Bartholomew Fair.”
One of Europe’s premiere schools for the performing arts, Accademia dell’Arte is a popular study-abroad location for Muhlenberg theater and dance majors. Kevin Crawford has worked with Muhlenberg students since 2002 as a professor at the Accademia and currently directs the school’s Master of Fine Arts program in physical theater. Crawford makes his Muhlenberg directing debut.
The production runs Feb. 21-24 in the Baker Theatre at Muhlenberg. Crawford and musician Caroline Boersma are this season’s Baker Artists-in-Residence, sponsored by the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Foundation.
Jonson’s 1614 play is “a noisy, exuberant slice of Jacobean life,” Crawford says. Depicting a day in the 17th century life of the Fair, the play pits Puritan excesses against the cruder vices and pleasures of the Fair’s underclass — the thieves, swindlers, prostitutes and pimps who thrived there.
“It’s about the upper-class society meeting the underbelly at the Fair and what happens when they interact,” Crawford says. “Madmen become prophets. Prophets humiliate themselves and gradually become madmen themselves. It’s a mix of punk, puritan, and opposition. Clean versus dirty.”
Crawford says that despite its 17th century origins, the story still resonates with modern audiences. Crawford wants to take the world of “Bartholomew Fair,” Jonson’s last great comedy, and show exactly how relevant it still is today.
“I’ve done ‘Bartholomew Fair’ before with students and I liked it,” Crawford says. “I was attracted to its language and its time. It’s a contemporary of ‘The Tempest,’ but a bit more racy. It’s quite unusual. … It’s a comedy, definitely not a heavy piece. It’s a fun piece.
“The thing that’s fun for me is watching this 400-year-old text just bursting to life. It’s like a firework display.”
Kevin Crawford is a founding member of the Roy Hart Theatre Company, whose groundbreaking influence on contemporary voice-work for theater is internationally recognized. He toured extensively with the company for more than 20 years, during which time the company received several prestigious prizes including an Obie Award in New York and the Prix Jean Vilar at The Printemps des Comédiens.
Crawford’s Accademia colleague, Boersma will provide original musical arrangements to the production. Her unique score uses music from the early 1600s, which she will accompany on cello, along with vocal and instrumental performances by the actors themselves. Boersma is coordinator of the music program at the Accademia dell’Arte, where she also teaches,
The music is important because it’s written into the show,” Boersma says. “Characters are always singing. It’s quite integrated. For me as a musician, it’s always interesting to work with theater. It adds a dimension.”
The show will also feature Muhlenberg faculty member Holly Cate in the role of Ursula, the Pig Woman. Cate describes Ursula as a grandmother figure to the Fair participants.
“Ursula is mean and nasty,” she says, “but she also takes care of everyone, and they take care of her.”
She describes the humor as “funny and bawdy,” with extreme characters and outrageous situations, and she says audiences will empathize with the characters’ faults and hypocrisies, as well as their successes.
“It’s like Monty Python in 1605,” she says.
Cate originally signed on to do the show because she wanted the opportunity to work with Crawford.
“If he wanted me to read from the telephone book, that is what I would do and I would have been delighted,” Cate says. “He’s fabulous. It’s incredible to be in the room with an artist of his caliber and a teacher of his caliber.”
Faculty member Tim Averill’s scenic design will add another dimension to the show. Recently returned from sabbatical during which he explored ways in which sustainability can be incorporated into the theatrical process, Averill seeks to keep the production as eco-friendly as possible.
“Limitation is a path to creativity,” Averill says. “Sustainable theater happens when conscious choices to be sustainable are part of the artistic aesthetic.”
Averill’s set design will use elements from previous productions as well as found objects that will be modified for the show. In addition, all the paint on set will be water based, not petroleum based, and he will use the least amount of “new stuff” possible to create a hand-crafted aesthetic, he says.
Averill hopes to use “Bartholomew Fair” as an example of how a designer can preserve production values while also creating a sustainable piece of theater.
“I’m excited about the challenge of the production,” Averill says, “and I’m excited to be part of a process that puts fun out into the world.”
Both Averill and Crawford have tried to incorporate fun into every aspect of the show, from the rehearsal and design processes to the performance itself. For Cate, the process has shown her how accessible the humor in the script really is.
“Kevin has a love for the language, which is rich and nasty and fabulous and profane,” Cate says. “I think it’s going to be like a little confection that everyone is going to enjoy. It’s going to be very funny — a grand experiment.”
“Bartholomew Fair” will feature costume design by guest artist Annie Simon and lighting design by Gertjan Houben. Molly Serpi is the production stage manager.
Performances of “Bartholomew Fair” are Feb. 21–24: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under and LVAIC students, faculty, and staff. Performances are in the Baker Theater, Trexler Pavilion for Theater and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Muhlenberg Theater & Dance performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 orwww.muhlenberg.edu/main/academics/theatre-dance/
You can ring in the new year at home with Ryan Seacrest — sadly, we lost Dick Clark this year — or you can join the crowd at one of the city’s most festive celebrations, Highmark First Night Pittsburgh.
As Stefon would say on “Saturday Night Live,” it has everything: Bollywood dancers, Japanese sword dancers, rockers, hip-hoppers, puppet paraders, treasure mappers, unicycling jugglers, human pinatas — no, not really pinatas, but that’s about all it doesn’t have.
It begins at 6 p.m. Monday with a Dollar Bank Children’s Fireworks Display and a performance by Adam Brock & The Soul Band on the Dollar Bank Stage at Seventh Street and Penn Avenue.
The evening concludes with a performance by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a New Orleans jazz/R&B institution since 1977, and then the Countdown to Midnight and Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale atop Penn Avenue Place and Fifth Avenue Place.
“I’ve been saying the idea of a television season is an anachronistic artifact,” Mr. Wurtzel said. “It’s a 52-week-a-year business. We never take a night off.”
The tradition of the fall season, originally tied to the start of the model year for new cars, is now more than 60 years old. It is defined arbitrarily and rather arcanely by the Nielsen Company as 34.5 weeks between mid-September and mid-May. The season doesn’t account for the increasing number of viewers who watch shows on their own schedules and it hasn’t stopped cable networks from introducing hit shows all through the year.
And yet, the idea persists, in large part because it still works. In defiance of diminishing ratings, attention on the new network shows seems only to have increased, as more blogs and social media sites offer breakdowns of the lineups and predictions of successes and failures.
It’s a work in progress for owner Kevin Rhude, who would like to turn the 100-year-old State Theatre of Boyertown into a theater of the arts.
At 61 N. Reading Ave., the theater shows three to four movies a week at 4:30 and 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays in addition to a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays and Sundays.
But Rhude of Boyertown wants the theater to go beyond film and be a venue for arts of all kinds.
Rhude purchased the State Theatre in 2008. Having worked in real estate for more than 20 years, Rhude said he has an appreciation for old buildings and art.
Saturday, April 21, 3pm
Second Baptist Church, 507 N. Adams Street, Pottstown
Support the great things happening through the Wings of Victory Outreach Organization and enjoy an evening of great entertainment.
All proceeds will benefit programs for homeless women.
Soloist: Arnetta Morgan
Mt. Olive Baptist Church Mass Choir, Pottstown, PA
Zion Baptist Church Choir, Ambler PA
Bethel Baptist Church Mass Choir, Phoenixville, PA
Second Baptist Church Mass Choir, Pottstown, PA
Comedian: “Miss Regina” of Delaware (Regina Scott)
Presentation to Honor Margaret Banks for her work in the community
Jay Leno, who hosted NBC-TV’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” from 1992 to 2009, then resumed as its host in 2010 after having his own prime-time “The Jay Leno Show,” will perform at the event center on Aug. 10.
Tickets are $65, $79.50 and $99.50.
To see who else is coming, click on the link below: http://blogs.mcall.com/lehighvalleymusic/2012/02/late-night-talk-show-icon-country-music-monarch-biggest-selling-instrumentalist-ever-set-for-sands.html
A great deal of activity is going on in our capital city tonight. It’s 3rd in the Burg night (Harrisburg’s version of First Friday) and the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz Festival takes place today, Saturday and Sunday, at venues around Harrisburg!
For more information about tonight’ s 3rd in the Burg events:
For more information about tonight’s Jazz Walk and this weekends 31st Annual Central Pennsylvania Jazz Festival events:
Get out there and enjoy the arts in PA!
Marivaux’s 18th century French comedy, onstage
at Muhlenberg College Feb. 24-27, explores questions of infidelity through a shocking sociological experiment
Allentown, Pa. (Feb. 3, 2011)—What would happen if you raised three boys and three girls in complete isolation from each other and the outside world—and then introduced them to one another? Would they fall in love? Promise to be loyal? How long would it take before the betrayals began? And who would be the first to stray, the women or the men?
Just such an experiment is at the heart of Pierre de Marivaux‘s mischievous 1744 comedy “La Dispute,” on stage Feb. 24-27 at Muhlenberg College. The play is shot through with romance, playful language and situational comedy, says director Francine Roussel, an associate professor in Muhlenberg’s theater and dance department. But it also gives the audience some food for thought.
“You leave the play with these nagging questions,” she says. “It is not as light as it seems.”
Though more 250 years old, the play continues to resonate with modern audiences and modern actors, Roussel says.
“At college, we are dealing with young people who fortunately fall in love and fall out of love,” she says. “That subject is relevant to any time. Is it in human nature, or is it a product of a civilization, era or culture?”
“La Dispute” begins with an argument: a prince and his courtiers have been debating whether men or women are more likely to unfaithful in love. To settle the dispute, the prince has concocted an experiment whereby six children spend their entire childhood and adolescence alone, with a pair of servant caretakers as their only human companions. At the age of 18, the children are introduced to each other, and couples form quickly. The lovers start out swearing their devotion, but they soon face their first temptations. The prince—and the audience—then watch as the results unfold.
“The temptation seems impossible to resist,” Roussel says. “The truth of human behavior is visible in these young people. They are constantly discovering the world around them and the world within themselves. These are the conditions of a serious experiment.”
As with all scientific endeavors, more questions than answers come out of this subversive experiment.
“It is a play that is philosophical in nature, just like anything in that century,” Roussel says. “Marivaux himself had that bent. His theater questions the philosophy of life. In the 18th century, literature and philosophy fell in love with science.
“I’m amazed at the refinement and sophistication of his language,” she says, “his knowledge of the human heart and of the infinite subtleties of human behavior, and his power to make that society aware of its class system and its need to change.”
Roussel says that the play displays a social agenda that was surprisingly progressive for its time. She is particularly interested in Marivaux’s depiction of the two black servants who have raised the children.
“The young people say horrible things about their guardians, totally racial, not politically correct things. I’m sure people will react to that,” Roussel says. “But Marivaux was way ahead of his time. He used provocative language to raise important social questions. He wrote a play about the emancipation of women and the emancipation of slaves. He had a real social consciousness.”
Roussel says she was interested in visualizing the cruelty of the experiment itself — an approach she discussed with scenic designer Curtis Dretsch. Dretsch designed a set he says is meant to invoke “a combination zoo enclosure and operating theatre,” in which the characters enter a central space from their separate cages of isolation.
“I have really questioned where the children come from, the damage done to them, and where they will go,” Roussel says. “I wanted the set to address these issues.”
Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. Princeton ranks Muhlenberg’s theater program sixth in the nation, and The Princeton Review and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.
“La Dispute” performances are Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 24-26, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. For mature audiences.
“La Dispute” performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre.