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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Casting concerns force theater dept. to change Mainstage production

Those who stopped keeping tabs on this term's Mainstage play back in September might have noticed that "The Negro of Peter the Great" is no longer on the schedule.

"Negro," originally slated to be produced this fall by the theater department, has been replaced with acclaimed British playwright Caryl Churchill's "Far Away," a futuristic tale "about what will happen in a world in which violence spins out of control," according to director Peter Hackett '75.

The play was switched when auditions failed to yield a single candidate for the title role of "The Negro," despite campus-wide outreach to drum up interest.

"Although we had a significant turnout by minority students, we did not have an African-American actor," Hackett said. After considering possible options, including making the character transgendered, restructuring the play so that the role was shared by several actors, or hiring a professional actor, the department decided to change the play altogether.

"We didn't have any options that we thought were appropriate," Hackett said.

A similar casting issue occurred in the spring of 2004, when the musical "Anything Goes" was chosen as the Mainstage production. When few strong male vocalists and dancers auditioned, the Department announced that it would produce the play "The Apple Tree" instead.

While "Far Away" may not have been the theater department's initial Mainstage pick, the switch has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Hackett and guest set, lighting and costume designer Pavel Dobrusky previously worked together at the Cleveland Play House on "Far Away," the last play Hackett directed before coming to Dartmouth. Their prior experience made it an especially apt choice, since neither would have to start completely from scratch.

Hackett described "Far Away" as "extraordinary, particularly when you think that it was written before September 11." In three brief scenes, the play depicts a grim, violent world in which no one can be trusted and even the animals are at war with one another.

"Far Away" opens with a young girl spending her first night at her new guardian's home, and each scene finds the girl older and the world more chaotic and destructive. "Far Away" follows its characters through an increasingly nightmarish web of conflict and deception.

"It's really a morality tale," Hackett said. He cited recent terrorist acts as evidence of the many forms violence can take in today's world. "Who would have ever thought an airplane would have been used as a weapon of mass destruction? It's not as far-fetched as it sounds."

Another advantage of choosing "Far Away" was that all students who auditioned were offered roles, which would not have been possible with "The Negro of Peter the Great."

In fact, Hackett and stage manager Kathleen Cunneen hope even more students will get involved. They have invited all those interested to appear in a large parade sequence in the play, which will require minimum rehearsal time and allow students to "be onstage for a few minutes, work with some great people, and wear a crazy hat," according to a theater department BlitzMail message.

In a significant departure from tradition, "Far Away" features two separate casts; the shows will be divided between them. The casts have never rehearsed together, so the actors have developed their characters independently.

As a result, two very different performances will be unveiled in the next few weeks. It just might be well worth your time to see "Far Away" twice, since each cast brings the script to life in a unique way.

Also, unlike most Mainstage productions, "Far Away" consists of a single act and has a running time of just 65 minutes. The play packs quite a bit into one act though: "It's so powerful, so rich and complex that you definitely feel like when it's over you have to go out and think about it, talk about it, and experience it," Hackett said.

"Far Away" runs in The Moore Theater Nov. 9-11 at 8 p.m., Nov. 15-17 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. A post-performance discussion will follow the Nov. 10 performance. Tickets are now on sale at the Hopkins Center Box Office. They are $3 for Dartmouth students, $6 for all other students and $12 for general admission.