Crude singing puppets, gruesome murders, death row reflections, comedy and women’s issues — the University of South Dakota Theater Department 2011-2012 season has it all.
The season kicks off in the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre with “God of Carnage,” a play directed by department chair Eric Hagen’s running Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, followed by “Avenue Q” Dec. 1 to 5 directed by assistant professor Matthew Nesmith. The play “Top Girls” kicks off the spring semester Feb. 22 to 26 directed by assistant professor Raimondo Genna. The season ends with the famous musical “Sweeney Todd” April 18 to 22 directed by assistant professor Chaya Gordon-Bland.
Productions performed in the Arena Theatre will include “Coyote on a Fence,” a play directed by graduate student Fred Liebfried scheduled for March 21 to 24. Student-directed one-act plays will be performed Nov. 11 to 13.
“God of Carnage” is the department’s opening act. With it being the season opener, the cast and crew have only three weeks for rehearsal — Hagen’s shortest preparation time ever. The play itself is also short, 90-minutes with no intermission.
Hagen said “God of Carnage” is a compelling dark comedy.
“It looks more closely at how people can become uncivilized when faced with conflicts and everyday irritations,” Hagen said.
“Avenue Q,” which closes out the fall season, is a mature “Sesame Street” for adults, Nesmith said. He said “Avenue Q” was chosen back in May when the rights became available, and because its mature themes would appeal to a college audience. This is reflected in song titles such as “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).”
Unique to “Avenue Q” is the use of puppets. The actors will be visible on stage holding and operating the puppets, but the puppets themselves are the characters and where the audience’s attention is meant to be directed.
“If it’s done right, the actor won’t take attention away from the puppet,” said Nesmith.
To help with this aspect, puppeteer Doug Stritch, a USD alumnus, is being brought in from New York to conduct a four-day workshop with the cast.
“Top Girls” will be directed by Genna and is set in London.
“It examines how far women have come and what they have paid after the feminist movement,” Genna said.
He said he hopes young students who have lived in a post-feminist world and think everything is OK will watch “Top Girls” and ask themselves,
“How far have (women) really come?”
Gordon-Bland said students will likely be most excited for “Sweeney Todd,” owing to the recent movie starring Johnny Depp.
“I think part of that is generational because (the movie) might be the most known reference point for (students’) generation,” said Gordon-Bland.
According to Gordon-Bland, “Sweeney Todd” originated in penny dreadfuls, weekly publications along the lines of pulp fiction, in Victorian-era London and was subsequently turned into a myriad of stage plays, ballets and silent films.
While the goal is not to reproduce the movie on stage, Gordon-Bland said she isn’t worried about movie lovers not appreciating the stage version.
She said it will still be a dark, gritty thriller.
“If they loved the movie, I encourage them to come and see the theater version,” Gordon-Bland said.
Also on the bill this season are student-directed plays,including the student-directed one-acts scheduled for Nov. 11 to 13. “Coyote on a Fence” is a longer production directed by Liebfried, a 50-year-old graduate student. It scrutinizes the death penalty but Liebfried said it merely seeks to portray the humans involved in the issue and “to make people think more closely about the death