‘American Love' takes on the politics of love

by Kelsey Sipple | 11/11/12 11:00pm

"True American Love," an original play written by Laura Neill '13, provided a fresh, beautifully crafted take on political commentary. The production, directed by Luke Katler '15, was performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Bentley Theater.

"It talks about the intersection of politics and love," Neill said. "It kind of contemplates the question of how much right a government or a person has to tell someone else whether they're right or wrong, especially when it comes to romantic relationships."

Set in Washington, D.C., the story follows Bianca, played by Anoush Arakelian '14, an aggressively driven campaign worker who will stop at nothing for her job, even if that involves destroying her personal relationships along the way. The four-person cast was excellent, but most notable were the performances by Robert Leverett '16 and Alyssa Steeger '16. Leverett captured the power and cool ferocity of a politician under fire in his role as Sen. Rich Sellman, and Steeger shone as his mistress, Isabelley.

Bianca spends the play trying to expose Sellman's affair in order to derail his campaign because she despises his "True American Love Act" a bill decreeing that only couples who are truly in love, according to a lie detector test, can be married. In order to uncover Sellman's transgressions, Bianca finds herself also injuring close friends, as Isabelle also happens to be Bianca's friend and roommate.

Katler took a creative approach to the play, which was effectively a staged reading of the script. The actors' scripts sat on music stands, which Katler allowed to become a dynamic part of each scene.

"I'm using space creatively in that I'm showing their character relationships by how they interact with these stands and these chairs," Katler said. "It was a really fun creative challenge to figure out how to not make that repetitive and how to make that engaging. It creates some really beautiful moments."

Most notable of these moments is a scene in which Bianca's fiance, Stu, played by Michael Vestergaard '15, steps out from behind his music stand and delivers his lines off-book during a fight that tears apart their engagement. The shift in his delivery allowed the lines to command more attention and made the scene much more powerful to experience.

"I think it makes it that much more effective, kind of delving into the reality then delving back into this accepted world that we've established," Katler said.

The consistent use of the music stands and chairs allowed the play's different scenes to weave together to create a cohesive, surreal environment. The dialogue came to life on the sparse set, as few visuals were present to take attention away from the lines.

The production "True American Love" was a workshopping process, as Neill continuously reworked the script over the course of the term with the assistance of theater professor Joseph Sutton. The cast also contributed to the dialogue.

"It was interesting going through the process with the playwright and looking at her edits," Steeger said. "She was very open to what we had to say about the characters. Basically every single rehearsal for two months straight, we'd have a new script."

What started out as a love story with political elements became more of a political satire as the script changed throughout the term. The cast did not receive final scripts until the weekend before the performance.

"It's been interesting to see the progression," Katler said. "It's maintained its ability to be a political commentary, but for me, my focus has switched more to these characters and how they relate to each other. I think that's what's really interesting about it, and then once you start thinking about the characters so much I think the political commentary comes through pretty easily."

The actors enjoyed watching the play evolve and being a part of Neill's creative process.

"The character relationships have changed somewhat, but the core characterization has been pretty consistent," Leverett said. "I think that's credit to Laura as a writer."

Stage manager Catherine Darragh '13 was in charge of making sure everyone was updated with each successive draft of the script and coordinated the organization of the production.

"It's an incredibly difficult job, and she does it incredibly well," Neill said.

Neill said a full staged production of "True American Love" will occur either in the Winter or Spring term.

Katler is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.

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