strongJaclyn Diaz, Beacon Correspondent/strong
As the main character crosses the stage to a wooden piano, the luminous tune “Claire De Lune” begins to play over an unseen speaker, adding a weighty, lonely melody to the otherwise silent theater.
The vulnerability of the character, and thereby the actor in that brief moment, was a result of the constant effort and push by the director to achieve an authentic emotional portrayal of two plays for Emerson Stage.
Directed by Company One artistic director Shawn LaCount, emParaffin/em and emNursing /emwill blend together loneliness, despair, humor, and anger as they hit the Greene Theater this weekend. The plays, two parts of Adam Rapp’s Hallway Trilogy, premiere tonight at 8 p.m.
The second installment of the Hallway Trilogy is emParaffin/em — a reflection into basic human interaction.
The story takes place in New York City during the 2003 blackout as the characters all cross paths with each other in one hallway. During the blackout, the characters all reveal secrets they have tucked away, hoping for change. In reality, they won’t act upon their desires when the lights return.
emNursing/em takes place in the year 2053 in an environment where all diseases have been eradicated from the world. The main character, Lloyd (played by a sophomore performing arts major Brian Cowe), is a volunteer who offers to be infected with various diseases to be put on display in a museum for visitors to witness the past effects of disease.
[caption id=attachment_3813857 align=aligncenter width=400 caption=Sarah Verrill/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_4080.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813857 title=DSC_4080 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_4080.jpg alt= width=400 height=265 //a[/caption]
The one uniting factor with both plays is the hallway in which all action take place. In emParaffin/em it is a hallway of an apartment building and with emNursing/em the same hallway is transformed into the museum where Lloyd is being kept.
Both chapters deal with less-than-appealing circumstances. In emParaffin/em there is the blatant ugliness of truth within people. One of the main characters, Margo (sophomore performing arts major Gigi Watson), desperately wishes that she had never been impregnated by her drug addict husband.
emNursing/em’s dark aspects are more physical than psychological. As Lloyd is being injected with history’s deadliest diseases — ranging from the Black Plague to cholera — the audience watches as he vomits, bleeds, and gets his plague-infested boils cut off.
The first play of the Hallway Trilogy, emRose/em, is not being shown alongside the two plays for the Emerson Stage production due to a busy season with only enough space for two one-act productions.
Though the plays are at times unsettling, LaCount said these plays are not “shock value for shock value’s sake.”
“These plays are very emotional and heartbreaking,” he said. “They can be really funny, and they do have a sense of humor, about themselves but they are able to transcend that to paint a picture of raw human emotion.”
From the beginning of production, LaCount put an emphasis on the importance of the actors’ ability to correctly portray the rawness that was necessary.
“If the actors do not express their own real emotion and vulnerability then the plays could look over-rehearsed,” he said “These plays demand danger, surprise and authenticity.”
[caption id=attachment_3813860 align=aligncenter width=400 caption=In Nursing, Lloyd (Brian Crowe) volunteers to endure various diseases as a museum display. Here, Andy (Peter Andersen) and (Landry Allbright) attempt to restrain him. Lauren Foley/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_0846.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813860 title=DSC_0846 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/DSC_0846.jpg alt= width=400 height=275 //a[/caption]
To get the performance that he wanted, LaCount pushed his actors to look beyond the rigors of their formal teaching and instead work with emotion first.
For Alexis Carpinello, a senior performing arts major who plays Rahel in emParaffin/em and Erin in emNursing/em, the push to gain real emotion started with getting to know her characters.
Carpinello said that LaCount pointed out subtleties in her characters that expanded her first impressions.
Although offering his actors a different perspective of their characters, according to Carpinello, LaCount also accepted and encouraged them to bring their own personalities to the productions.
“[LaCount] encouraged us from the beginning to share our ideas about dialogue, thoughts, and ideas,” Carpinello said. “To me, that was always refreshing that he was never afraid to change.”
The director is hopeful that his approach to these plays will work in his favor.
“If we do it right the plays will be very complex, emotional, heartbreaking, and really funny.”
strongemParaffin and Nursing /empremiere tonight at 8 p.m. in the Greene Theater and run until Sunday. Tickets are $8 for the Emerson community./strong
emJaclyn Diaz can be reached at email@example.com./em
emAn earlier version of this article misquoted Alexis Carpinello. The quote has been retracted./em