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College Theater will present Edward Albee’s The American Dream 8 p.m. today through Saturday in the Williams Center for the Arts Black Box Theater. Tickets cost $6 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

The play is directed by New York actor and alumnus Chris Hutchison ’91, who was guest star on an episode of the NBC sitcom “Ed” and acted in a new play presented by New Federal Theater, Whose Family Values!, that opened in May at the Clurman Theater in Manhattan. An English graduate who was active in College Theater as a student, Hutchison directed Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia at the Williams Center last year.

Albee’s early absurdist comedy explores what the playwright has called “the substitution of artificial for real values in America.” Set in the apartment of a wealthy, childless family, the play chronicles the brief and hilarious attempts of a middle-aged couple to adopt a child on the same day they are trying to evict the grandmother who lives with them. Through a series of highly improbable revelations, this comic send up of middle-class mores and murder gives birth to our most frightening nightmares about marriage, children, good looks, and the elderly.

“What is really great about this play is that it is a complete social commentary on artificial values — family and otherwise — which plagued many Americans in the 1960s and probably today,” says International Affairs major David Norton ’04 (Kensington, Md.), who portrays Daddy. “It’s not your run-of-the-mill romance or comedy, but is deeply comical, almost to the point of absurdity.”

Its placement in the Theater of the Absurd means that the play includes many conventions that would never happen in real life, says Norton, although they point at real-life situations, which is what makes the play so interesting for him. “It’s difficult to convey such absurd situations in a way that makes audiences believe, at least for that moment, that they are feasible,” he admits.

Playing the role of Daddy has been an enjoyable challenge for Norton, whose College Theater experience includes portraying Doalty in Translations, Diggory in She Stoops to Conquer, and Launce in Two Gentlemen from Verona. He also played the role of Clown in a production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale that included two other Lafayette students studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

“A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been comic acting, where my characters have been allowed to be overly exaggerated in their movements and their speech,” he explains. “Daddy, by contrast, spends most of his time on stage sitting in his chair, and is a flat and predictable character. By virtue of his position in the family, he isn’t really allowed to show much emotion. But he does have emotions. That means the intention of all his actions and speech have to be so acute and controlled so as to convey a variety of emotions to the audience, which is very hard to do, but very rewarding at the same time.”

Working with Hutchison has been “great,” according to Norton.

“He’s very easy to relate to since he was also an actor at Lafayette at one point, which makes working with him very comfortable,” he says. “He’s also extremely enthusiastic about his work, and that comes through in his directing. He knows his craft really well and has been very helpful in suggesting certain choices to the actors, but at the same time, he knows how to balance, allowing us to discover for ourselves what is going on with the characters we are playing. So far, the whole experience has been very rewarding.”

College Theater is distinctive in its accessibility to the student body, Norton notes.

“You don’t have to be a theater major or minor to get involved,” he says. “We have anyone from English majors to an engineer, and all of them have a lot of talent. Other than Chris, I have only worked under (College Theater Director) Michael O’Neill, who is amazing, but I’ve heard great things about Suzanne Westfall and the other directors too.”

Mechanical engineering major Ryan J. Sakmar ’04 (Doylestown, Pa.) was immediately drawn to the play by Albee’s writing within the Theater of the Absurd, and found the ideal image portrayed by his character, Young Man, appealing.

“While the play was written long ago, most of the absurdity of the ideals and materialistic nature of Americans still applies to present thinking,” he says. “I found it interesting that among the three female roles and two male roles, the women dominate every aspect of the play. Between the Mommy, Grandma, and Mrs. Barker, the women run the show, something ever more common these days.”

“Chris is wonderful to work with and has quite a knack for relating Albee’s words and intentions to young college actors,” adds Sakmar, who performed in College Theater’s production of The Nativity as a first-year student. “Chris has really done a superb job of selecting the cast. Each student fits his or her role perfectly; it’s almost scaryI have only good things to say about the theater program.”

Sakmar is president of Newman Association, junior tribune of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, academic affairs liaison of Student Government, a member of Wrestling Club, and part-time fitness assistant at Kirby Sports Center. He also is conducting a year-long senior project in mechanical engineering.

Jenna Beatrice ’07 (Mahwah, N.J.) is one of two students in an Introduction to Theater course with roles in the play. Each rehearsal brings more understanding of Albee’s meaning, she says.

“It is a dark comedy with disturbing representation of human nature, but I feel that it accurately pinpoints the superficiality of modern America and the ‘American dream,’” she says. “Although the play is on the surface disturbing and weird, the more I read the play, see if performed, and hear the words, the play simply becomes better and better, both in the meaning as a social commentary and humor.”

Her role, Mrs. Barker, is more likeable than the Mommy or Daddy characters, notes Beatrice, since she does good works for the community, but her service seems motivated more by social obligations than the goodness of her heart.

“Mrs. Barker is an interesting character to perform because she likes to act as if she is always in control, although she and the audience know that she is not in this particular circumstance when she comes to visit Mommy and Daddy,” says Beatrice.

The student says she is struck by the professionalism and willingness to share experience displayed by everyone in College Theater, which represents a significant jump for her high school experience.

“Chris Hutchison brings so much enthusiasm and professionalism to the cast and performance,” she adds. “I am impressed by the organization of the scheduled rehearsals and the dedication of Chris and the entire cast and crew. I have learned so much already from everyone here at Lafayette, from my cast mates, Chris, and my Introduction to Theater class. Everyone is enthusiastic about the play and supportive of the hard work that it takes to put on a performance. I am also impressed by the myriad of performances that Lafayette has brought to the arts program here already and I am excited to see and experience more of Lafayette’s theater program.”

Cast (with majors and hometowns) and crew:
Daddy — David Norton ’04, International Affairs; Kensington, Md.
Mommy — Emily Goldberg ’05, history and government & law; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Grandma — Kiira Benzing ’07, English; Ridgewood, N.J.
Mrs. Barker — Jenna Beatrice ’07, English; Mahwah, N.J.
Young Man — Ryan Sakmar ’04, mechanical engineering; Doylestown, Pa.

Director — Chris Hutchison ’91
Set Design — Vicki Neal
Lighting Design — Richard Kendrick
Costume Design — D. Polly Kendrick, Parrott Designs
Sound Design — Timothy Frey
Stage Manager — Sarah Templeton ’06, undeclared; Metuchen, N.J.

Categorized in: Students