Drama Program’s ‘Our Private Lives’ reworks dark subject material in English-language debut
Black comedy will challenge audience expectations and taboos
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 08:10
The Drama Program of Tufts’ Department of Drama and Dance is kicking off Parents and Family Weekend with its first production for the 2012-2013 season, which will be sure to present many interesting and thought-provoking questions to the audience. This weekend will see the premiere of “Our Private Lives,” a black comedy by Colombian playwright and telenovela writer Pedro Miguel Rozo.
“Our Private Lives” marks the 25th Tufts production for director and faculty member Laurence Senelick, and will also be the North American English-language debut of the play, which was originally written in Spanish. The Royal Court Theatre in London developed the initial English translation of the text. Senelick explained that the Tufts production team worked to remove many British terms in order to make the language more American.
Senelick praised “Our Private Lives” for its comedic elements and social commentary.
“This show is a kind of parody, in a way, of a telenovela and all the agonies and all the dysfunctional families you usually see,” he said. “But it’s also a comment on Colombian culture and the state of Colombian society. What you’re getting in this play is a transition from the old Colombia to the new Colombia, seen through the eyes of this one particular family, which is being riven by a scandal.”
This family is a formerly well-to-do Colombian clan, living in a village that is slowly growing into a city. When a story begins to circulate around the town about the patriarch of the family molesting a young boy on his farm, the rumor threatens to envelop the family. The remainder of the play focuses on the characters’ search for the truth.
Senelick had wanted the department’s first show to open on Parents and Family Weekend. Faced with this logistical consideration, he searched for a short show that would require less rehearsal time and construction time than usual, and ultimately decided upon “Our Private Lives.” Because the show is not separated into acts like most traditional plays, it can run straight through without any intermissions or breaks.
One distinct aspect of “Our Private Lives” is that it often features the actors pantomiming actions in lieu of using traditional props.
“Because so much of this [show] is in people’s minds, they speak their thoughts out loud in this play [and] things fade in and out of reality. So sometimes there’s a real prop and sometimes there isn’t,” Senelick explained.
This minimalist approach also carries over to the set of “Our Private Lives,” which is composed of just a few walls with portals and windows. Partially due to the need for less intensive construction because of the unusually early premiere, the basic set also reflects the play’s themes. According to Senelick, the combination of rough and smooth textures in the set represents the village’s transition into a larger town.
“Our Private Lives” is brought to life by a student cast and crew that run the gamut in terms of age and experience. The group of seven actors includes seniors Zachary Gillette and Ryan Willison, as well as three freshmen participating in their first Tufts production. Freshman Jem Wilner, who plays a psychiatrist, voiced her appreciation for the cast’s small size.
“[It] makes for a very intimate cast. We all know each other a lot better by the end of this,” she said.
Senior James Pouliot, an assistant director for the production who is also an assistant News editor at the Daily, assists Senelick with everything from working with individual actors to helping with blocking. Pouliot said that working on “Our Private Lives” has been a great learning experience for him.
“The play ... asks more difficult questions,” he said.
Senelick hopes that the play will push some of the boundaries of comedy and challenge its audience.
“One of the things we’re exploring in this play is how far can you go with comedy,” he said. “What subjects are taboo? In a way, this play — and I hope the production — will challenge some of those ideas or make people rethink their positions. I’m hoping it will be controversial.”
For a video preview and interviews with Laurence Senelick and two cast members, check out the Tufts Daily’s Jumbo Slice blog.