The 2015-2016 HWS theatre season will draw to a close with the world premiere of “Duchess,” a modern adaptation of John Webster’s “Duchess of Malfi” written specially for HWS by award-winning Atlanta-based playwright Johnny Drago. “Duchess” will run on Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., and on Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the McDonald Theatre of the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts.
“The Duchess of Malfi” is the story of a young woman who chooses, against the wishes of her obsessive, controlling brothers, to marry for love, and as a result is punished and ultimately killed in retaliation for her transgression. A contemporary twist on Webster’s version, Drago explains that his adaption differs in its overall intent and in its thematic conclusion.
“What we wanted to do with our reimagining of the play was to find ways in which to subvert the sense of doom, of hopelessness, of omnipresent death, and find a way for the female characters to rescue themselves from a male-driven system of oppression by dismantling it from within,” he says.
Directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Heather May, the play stars Luis Figueroa ’18, Jacqueline Fisher ’18, Anika Hanson ’18, Austin Jennings ’19, Jesse Singleton ’18 and Natalie Young ’18.
Casey Cady ’18 is the stage manager with assistants Kathleen Fowkes ’18 and Clare McCormick ’17. The creative team includes: costume design by guest artist Dixon Reynolds, assistant professor of costume design at SUNY Fredonia; sound design by Kelly Walker of WEOS and Finger Lakes Public Radio; scenic and lighting design by HWS Technical Director Bill Burd; and movement coaching by Assistant Professor of Dance Kelly Johnson.
Just the second play to be performed in the newly constructed McDonald Theatre, May explains that Drago wrote “the very architecture of the McDonald Theatre” into the play. “Our actors know that Johnny Drago wrote this draft with them in mind. It’s an incredible gift to be given the chance to birth a character and a play,” says May, who last directed “Tartuffe” in 2014 and is the founder and artistic director of Mosaic NY, the Colleges’ social justice theatre company.
Incorporating social justice advocacy in all of her productions, May worked with Drago to craft the “Duchess” script in a way that “raises questions about the patriarchal limitations of women’s abilities to live fully.” They hoped to provide students with a challenging experience that expands their skillset.
“I want to ask them to do things they might not normally get to do in theatre, to stretch their skills and imaginations in unexpected new directions,” Drago says.
Friday’s performance will also feature a Frame/Works event, a program designed to draw connections between scholarly examination and artistic practice. Associate Professor of English Rob Carson will give a pre-show lecture offering insight into the script and storyline. Following the performance, audience members are invited to participate in a post-show discussion with Johnny Drago and other members of the creative team. Taken together, the pre-show lecture and post-show discussion “frame” a “work” of theatrical art.
Tickets for “Duchess” are available at the College Store, Area Records, and room 202 in the Gearan Center between 2 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. There will be a limited number of tickets free for students one hour prior to each performance. All other tickets are $5.