The show follows a pair of poor, nameless convicts that tunnel out of their prison cell and flee through a city pursued by a buffoonish, sex-crazed police officer. Along the way they’re joined by a disgruntled maid. The trio stumbles into a decadent banquet where socialites inspire them to break into a song about the many ways “riches make you dumb.” Next they happen onto a Vietnam battlefield where the wealthy hold a picnic surrounded by wounded, dying soldiers — one of whom is more concerned with complaining about an untasty hamburger than impending doom. The play concludes in the home of the Mayor with lyrics that put a stabbing spin on Marie Antoinette’s celebrated statement: “And for those who have no cake / There’s plenty of bread.”
The play’s genius lies in its ability to convince the audience to sympathize with the prisoners and consider a series of symbolic, highly stylized social interactions through a working class lens.
“We asked students to step outside their comfort zone and take on some huge issues in a really unconventional manner,” said Seremet. Staged in the round — i.e. with audience members on four sides of the stage — Promenade challenged students’ ideas of form and presentation. It was a big risk, but “the payoff was even bigger.”
College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean Paul Menzer says the season’s remaining performances will follow a similar directive.
“This year is all about pushing students to examine relevant social issues in performance, but also explore the conventions of the genres that tell these stories,” said Menzer.
A mid-Feb. run of Anon(ymous) will ask students to think outside the box to stage the play’s abundant magical realism. Using classical approaches to amplify heightened language within Romeo and Juliet will expand acting toolkits in late March and early April. The Pretentious Young Ladies will conclude the year in May with a classroom study of a lesser-known work by one of theatre’s most famous satirists.
“This season is basically a love letter to a very, very talented cohort of students,” said Seremet. Emphasizing the interpretation of timeless themes to echo contemporary social issues across multiple genres will challenge them to take their acting to the next level.
Audiences will have the privilege of watching the results in real time.