Chances are you have never heard of a character who thinks of herself as a black hole. But if you want to learn about such a person, the Philaletheis production of Dan Dietz’s tempODYSSEY is for you.
Philaletheis, Vassar’s largest student-run theater group and oldest extracurricular organization, has been working on tempODYSSEY since mid-February and rehearsing five or six days a week.
Philaletheis will show approximately ninety-minute productions of the play at 8 p.m. on April 25, April 26, and April 27 in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater.
“The play is sort of this metaphor for the cosmos and the black hole. It talks a lot about constellations and the characters that come out of a constellation,” said Treasurer of Philaletheis Christopher Campbell-Orrock ’13, who selected and is directing the play.
“In this show the universe explodes into the room, we move into a crummy office, then into Georgia in the Appalachians where trees are doing headstands trying to suck the light out of the soil. It is a topsy-turvy amusement ride through life, death and the universe,” wrote Drama major Tyler Glover ’13, who is involved in light design for the production and co-designing the set, in an emailed statement.
“We are going to transform the Shiva in a way that will bring about the regularity of an office space, the obscurity of an unknown and crazy land, and the immensity of the universe,” he continued.
Campbell-Orrock believes that while the play is obviously not a typical example of Realism, a 19th century movement that aimed to depict more realistic scenarios in theater, it does not lose its narrative.
“It’s complex, and it’s layered in the sense that epics intersperse and mix with reality. Dietz allows his performers and his readers a lot of freedom in the sense that the stage directions are things like ‘The Big Bang occurs’ and ‘The Big Bang occurs again—a little less happy, this time.’ They’re things that are not, per se, logical, but leave room for interpretation,” he said.
For Siobhan Reddy-Best ’13, a member of the five-actor cast, this freedom is highly enjoyable. “It’s really fun to work on a show like [this], because basically nothing is off-limits. The play exists in such an alternate/heightened reality, we’ve really been able to explore and play with physicality etc.,” she wrote in an emailed statement.“To some extent, that’s also what’s been difficult: finding the balance between enjoying the huge, playful nature of the language/circumstances while still finding the ways in which the story is rooted in reality,” she explained in an emailed statement.
For Campbell-Orrock, finding a visual way to represent the poetry of the script has been a challenge as well as an opportunity. “This has been a chance for me to really experiment with what boundaries I want to push, which ones I don’t, how to respect the text, and how to go beyond it. So in that sense, it’s been a very challenging directorial process,” he said.
“There are just different types of theater. Some people will think this is too experimental. Some people will think it’s not experimental enough.”
On the other hand, the intricacy of the script absorbs him. “The world is never stable. You always have an emotional sense of what’s going on. You always have a path, a way of understanding the events. And that’s what I find fascinating,” he commented.
Campbell-Orrock considers the play to be about human interaction. “I think it’s something every character in this play struggles with. The play is about the odyssey to finding human connection. It’s not necessarily easy or happy or simple, but a lot of it’s about that search,” he said.
Reddy-Best agreed. “[T]he play has taken something that I think most people, particularly young people, experience: searching for that connection with someone or something outside of yourself, and then the play exaggerates it and places it in a context of mythic proportions. Even though some of the circumstances are bizarre, there’s something really relatable about the characters because they just want what everyone wants,” she wrote.
Reddy-Best has enjoyed working on this production and appreciates the script, despite its massive complexity. “Dan Dietz…clearly loves language and uses it very particularly. A lot of it is huge, Homeric similes and things that are way outside our everyday speech patterns. But a lot of it is totally normal, unsurprising conversations that happen all of the time,” she wrote.
Campbell-Orrock respects the complexity of the play as well and shies away from labeling it as experimental or abstract.
“I find labels to ultimately be challenging, and I think people have preconceptions about them that aren’t accurate. I think this play in particular is kind of a middle ground,” he remarked.“All these pieces, the storylines, the extremity of language—all that’s there. But Dietz kind of pulls that back and puts it into something people will watch. I feel like this play in particular hits this odd balance between some normal scenes with heightened language and some with heightened language and heightened everything else,” he continued.
Actor and Economics major David Keith ’13 feels that the play can evoke many different emotions and wrote in an emailed statement: “This is a play where you can laugh, yell, and cry, and walk away from it realizing how real every moment is.”