Theater doesn’t have to make the audience feel comfortable. In fact, perhaps the most powerful impact a drama can have is when it turns a mirror on society and forces the audience to reckon with an ugly truth.
Unbound will confront the religious falsehoods surrounding the topic of sexual assault in the Bible Belt with a production of Doug Wright’s play “The Stonewater Rapture” in The Mug on May 2, 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. Directed by Maya Moiseyev-Foster ’20, this play follows two teenagers, Carlyle and Whitney—portrayed by Rachael Kraft ’21 and Nick Gorman ’21 respectively—who struggle with their sexual awakening within the religious repression of their conservative community in Stonewater, TX.
This production is the six-year brainchild of Moiseyev-Foster, who first discovered the play through a curious connection to the playwright. She explained, “I know the playwright because he was my dad’s college roommate, and he’s actually very excited about the fact that I’m directing this show, because he wrote it and it was first produced and performed in his sophomore year of high school. He’s very pleased that it’s almost full-circle that his roommate’s daughter is directing it now.”
Moiseyev-Foster also found that, even though “The Stonewater Rapture” was written over 30 years ago, the current political discourse means that the play’s themes are still relevant, adding, “That was one of the reasons I felt so heavily that this is the year I need to bring it to Vassar, because the #MeToo Movement is going so strong right now. We’re dealing with a surprising amount of the same stuff we were dealing with back when the play was written, which is terrible but is important to acknowledge.”
Because of the difficult subject matter, the production team has taken additional precautions to assist and inform the audience. The production team reached out to representatives from the Women’s Center and the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Office for guidance in approaching the intense material in a way that addresses viewers without completely distressing them. There will also be talkbacks after each show with representatives from The Listening Center and the Vassar College Counselling Service.
Stage Manager Angelie Hu ’21 talked about how the process was influenced by the balance between confrontation and relief: “The production’s approach to the show had been one of embracing discomfort. It’s easy to say that the show deals with difficult subjects or that the characters go through a lot of rough things over the course of the show. That’s certainly true, but we wanted to come from a place of understanding. Sometimes these characters say or do things that are absolutely the wrong thing at the wrong time. This understandably may push an audience away from sympathizing with them, but as a production team we wanted to do our best to understand where these characters are coming from. They’re human.”
“The Stonewater Rapture” first achieved acclaim after being presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1984. Wright has received critical acclaim for his other plays, including “Quills” in 1995 and “I Am My Own Wife” in 2003, which received the Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2004.
As Carlyle, Kraft experiences both the opportunity and challenge of staying onstage for the entirety of the production. Kraft reflected, “Maya stressed the importance of creating comprehensive backstories for each of our characters, ones that would permeate into every one of our characters’ actions and motivations on stage. This included research and thought put into the culture of gossip in a small-town setting, dialects, social life, home life, the role of religion in their lives, sexuality, their relationships with their friends and family and of course their relationships to each other.”
Kraft added, “Especially in a realistic play with a cast of only two, a flat character is not an option.” Despite, or perhaps because of, the controversial material, the cast has become very close through the process. Moiseyev-Foster remarked, “Basically everyone on my team, except for three people, I had never met before the show. And getting to know them as people and through their work has been an incredible experience. They are all incredibly talented, and I feel so lucky that they have willingly decided to be a part of my show.”
Hu hopes that through the struggles and flaws of the characters, the audience will be able to introspectively create their own dialogue. She elaborated, “Mistakes are made, and the characters deal with the repercussions of the things that happen to them. In my opinion, that adds a level of reality to the show. We may not always agree with the characters, but we see where they’re coming from and we might even relate, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us to see a bit of ourselves reflected back at us.”