What's Unique to the Stage

That Dinah’s story was ever on paper is increasingly irrelevant as our focus has become more tangibly minded. Rehearsals are no longer spent flipping through scripts around a table – lines are now memorized (except for the occasional call of Line, line!) – and the actors are familiarizing themselves with the stage’s corners and crossbeams. Just as detail has been honored in each word spoken, it now guides each step taken; it’s not just that you move, but how you move. Now that the text has offered itself to the full scrutiny of the cast, the cast must in turn submit to it.

As we’ve maturated from lines on paper, I’m now considering what theatre benefits storytelling that written language does not. Not that one trumps the other, but what is exclusive to the stage? Perhaps the actors become the language; if strong verbs promise strong writing, then perhaps strong expressions and movements and gestures and blocking and faces achieve excellent theatre. The answer, I believe, has surfaced as I’ve observed each actor rise to rehearse a new scene; the process begins timidly. Each new scene seems a bit dreaded. I suppose it’s incredibly vulnerable, that moment of embodying new text, the first moment of taking this story – this character, this universe – fully upon yourself.

I’ve loved witnessing each scene crystallize from the first attempt to the second then the third in a single rehearsal. This progress is knit together by Patkó’s perpetual challenge to try this, play with it. There’s no right or wrong only the perpetual keep playing with it until we arrive at the blocking triumph of this works.

It is in this way that theatre is inevitably human – human in a way that is unique to its form. Our actors weep beneath a table, thrash on a grave, and sprawl in the dirt – do whatever is necessary – to enter the story and devote themselves to their characters. Their constantly playing with their movements, with their props, and in these choices theatre maintains its humanity. And our universe steadily expands.

Journey from French to English

 “We’re creating a whole universe about a love story,” explained director Éva Patkó. With the company team complete – from cast to designers – the universe for Simon Abkarian’s Dinah, her husband, and her son is leaving the imagination for the stage. Though Abkarian’s script provides the fullest depth of life, it remains dormant until placed in the hands of the theatre. These characters remain only ideas, only words on a page, until they receive bodies, breath, and voices. And Dinah’s home is nothing beyond the imagination until designers and carpenters begin sketching ideas and hammering nails. 

The creative process is ultimately an exploratory one. For the cast, this exploration has begun with scouring fourteen scenes of text. As they have come to know their characters and the universe they inhabit, I’ve been struck with the depth, power, and beauty of language. Though Penelope, O Penelope was written by Simon Abkarian, this script has become uniquely Theatre Y’s thanks to the meticulous efforts of Artistic Director and actress (Dinah/Sofia) Melissa Lorraine to translate the text from its original French. The cast has therefore been required to examine each word, each syntactical decision, and each movement of text to determine that each translated word is appropriate for the mouth of their English-speaking characters. Through paying such respect to the language, the cast has come to know, inside and out, the world that they’re not just entering, but bringing to life. 

Through this process of language, the cast has consequently been faced with the question of Who am I? As beautiful as the language is, it’s not self-explanatory. These characters are people and people are complex, and even though an actor may have memorized the text, it certainly does not mean that he knows himself. In each line the actors find new questions and new answers and move closer towards discovering just to whom it is that they’re giving voice.

As the cast has pondered lingual nuances, the production team, led by Production Manager and actor (Ante) Kevin V. Smith has begun transforming the chapel into Dinah’s modern Ithaca. From scrutinizing fabric samples to selecting dirt for the floor, there are no choices too meticulously determined. Having been through the script several times, both on my own and with the cast, I have been fascinated to see how these creative minds are interpreting and visually producing the text. These carefully determined choices are what bond Dinah’s story with Theatre Y’s, making them seamlessly one.

Through rehearsals, production meetings, marketing strategizing, and set builds I have concluded that everything is story. With a blanket around her shoulders, we know that Dinah’s cold with no one to fill her bed. And Ante’s inability to master the tango indicates just how out of step his warped mind really is. Everything is characterization, and not just of the characters, but of the universe as a whole. Each detail serves to deepen and expand the universe, which has led me ask, Is Dinah’s story worth it? Is Dinah worth it? It’s stunning to witness just how dedicated the artists of Theatre Y are for, what Patkó claims, is “an art form written in water.” Their dedication is a statement on not only Abakarian’s work, but on art itself. 

Odysseus’ journey is well known. We are learning more of Penelope’s – of Dinah’s – and in the process are learning that of Theatre Y. Though we face no sirens or suitors, the artistic journey is an endeavor nonetheless, and is unfolding itself to be well worth the exploration.

An Introduction

It was my sophomore year of undergrad when I went to my first play in Chicago. As a product of the South I was poorly versed in the stage, the spectacle, and even the audience. I wasn’t off to The Lyric Opera or Goodman, but took the 66 bus to a warehouse. A poster on the door read Porn and we had arrived.

Since this evening two years ago I have toured this city’s box offices, amassing playbill after playbill. From manuscripts to auditions I have continued wandering – with both successes and try-agains – into the community that is theater. I have Theater Y to thank for Porn, my first theatrical experience, and for The Binding and Happy Days that followed. And now I thank this company for my newest endeavor as I continue my wandering. 

How do we get from the script to the stage? Theater is literature and art and human and sacrifice, but why? Over the next six weeks, I’ve received the privilege of sticking my nose into the community of Theater Y to witness – to behold – Penelope, O Penelope! as she is brought to the stage. I don’t claim equity or credits in any playbill that I’m aware of. But with questions and curiosity I’ll be a fly on the fourth wall.