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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Perpetua-lly unanswered questions: Theatre departments latest production fails to satisfy

By Lauren Hoffman
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 22, 2004

The St. Olaf theatre departments latest production, Perpetua, is an answer to the age-old question, What happens when two grieving sisters, a put-out husband whos possibly in love with the two girls and a deceived doctor/sailor converge for two hours on a stage inexplicably covered in sand?

Perpetua, presented in conjunction with The Playwrights Centers New Plays on Campus project, deals with issues of family, relationships, grief and denial. Though not without its strong points, Perpetua, in the end, fails to stand on its own two feet.

Telling the story of two sisters dealing with the aftermath of their fathers death, Vincent Delaneys script is problematic in and of itself. Delaney leaves multiple questions unanswered, particularly related to the motivation of his characters.

The audience does know that one sister (Audrey, played by Solveig Harriday 06) is angry and the other (Gayle, played by Katherine Olson 06) is not, but viewers dont know any more about why they are who they are at the close of the play than they do at its start. The audience never has a sense of who to relate to or root for because the characters are never fully fleshed out.

Moreover, the script in general seems uneven. In a play that is obviously a drama, Delaney creates moments of real tension and intensity only to place them in odd contexts (such as placing a six-minute monologue late in the plays second hour) or punctuate them with cheap gags. Subsequently, Delaneys work emphasizes the need to search for answers  without providing any of its own.

This same insight into motivation is lacking in certain elements of the productions staging, specifically in its scenery. The main component of the plays set is a copious amount of sand spread across the stage. The presence of the sand makes sense for the plays beach scenes, but for the rest of the play, the audience is left wondering why the characters are always ankle deep in sand  even when theyre inside the house.

Such a bewildering staging element needs explanation  it is not enough that the sand looks impressive; it needs to mean something within the context of the play. This deeper, more metaphorical meaning  if it exists  is never explained.

The performances of the plays cast are its strongest point. The intelligence and intensity Harriday brings to her performance are balanced well by the sensitive, self-deprecating and ultimately endearing performance of Max Wojtanowicz 06, who plays her husband Dixon.

Olson provides an intriguing foil to both her character as well as Harridays, infusing a decided boldness into the role of the free-spirited Gayle. While Nick Sahli 07 seems as though he could have toppled into slapstick while in character as a cardiac surgeon-turned-sailor, he instead approaches his role with a genuine susceptibility.

Perpetua is ultimately a moving story, and there are moments during which everything seems to come together. Unfortunately, these moments are not enough to compensate for the areas in which the play is lacking, and the production fails to reach its full potential. Instead of leaving Haugen Theater satisfied by what Perpetua was, theatergoers likely walked away from the production hungry for what could have been.

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