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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

'Lobster' incoming

By Melanie Meinzer
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 18, 2005

Accomplished Minneapolis playwright Kira Obolensky is the author of “Lobster Alice,” which will continue performances November 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. in Haugen Theater. Obolensky has visited campus several times during the course of the production to meet with costume and set designers and answer questions. She said she looks forward to St. Olaf’s production of the play.

“I’m thrilled that St. Olaf is doing ‘Lobster Alice.’ I had a great time coming down,” Obolensky said.

The idea for “Lobster Alice” struck Obolensky while she was researching an article on theme park architecture. She learned that Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí traveled to Hollywood after World War II, where Disney Studios hired him to do a dream ballet-type production, “Destino,” a film similar to “Fantasia.”

Obolensky describes “Lobster Alice” as a surreal play, influenced in part by Dalí’s work. Its dreamlike quality comes from its strange juxtapositions: the combination of the painter Salvador Dalí, Disney Studios in Hollywood and the story of “Alice in Wonderland.” The titular lobster was inspired by the Dalí image, “The Lobster Quadrille,” Obolensky said.

For Obolensky, theater is an art form that unites the visual arts with the musical rhythm of the spoken word. Obolensky attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where she studied art, music and poetry. She has been writing plays for 16 years.

Yet when she was in college, she did not see herself becoming a professional playwright. While many playwrights begin as actors, Obolensky’s unusually late start in the business means that she approaches the task from a different angle.

Her background in art is likely to have prompted the inclusion of Dalí’s character in “Lobster Alice.”

Theater is also generally collaborative endeavor. Obolensky contributes the play’s script, which she believes acts as an adaptable blueprint or map, rather than a set prescription.

Obolensky also has written plays collaboratively. “Hate Mail,” co-written by Minneapolis actor and writer Bill Corbett, is a compilation of letters the two playwrights exchanged.

The performances of “Lobster Alice” will take place in Haugen, an appropriately smaller and more intimate setting that gets the audience closer to the action. Haugen’s usual “thrust stage” setup, in which the audience surrounds the stage on three sides, has been rotated 90 degrees to the left. The resulting arrangement is a stage as long as its width had been previously.

The altered audience perspective was the idea of Theatre Department Chair and “Lobster Alice” Director Karen Wilson. Wilson wanted to put people “right on the playing field,” she said.

Obolensky said she has seen her play performed only in the traditional proscenium format, in which rows of seating face a curtained stage, fully separating the audience from the performers. Since “Lobster Alice” features a lot of verbal sparring, the innovative setup gives each audience member a different perspective on the action, Obolensky said.

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