New Voices/New Visions series continues at Muhlenberg College
Series of short plays to feature classic Ionesco play, world-premiere coming-of-age superhero comedy, on the Studio Theatre stage, Nov. 29-Dec. 3
Muhlenberg’s Theatre & Dance Department continues its “New Voices / New Visions” series Nov 29 through Dec. 3, with an evening of short experimental productions. The series showcases the talents of up-and-coming playwrights and directors, in a venue that encourages artistic risk-taking and experimentation.
In this edition, Brydon Geisler directs Eugène Ionesco’s iconic absurdist play “The Bald Soprano.” Irene Martinko directs “Conform,” a world premiere play by Joe McNaney about a teenager with Tourette Syndrome and superhero fantasies.
In “The Bald Soprano,” what begins as a thoroughly mundane conversation between two couples devolves into a struggle to stay sane. Ionesco’s iconic 1950 masterpiece depicts a shifting reality, in which secrets are revealed and time is ultimately an illusion.
“What’s unique about this experience is that this play doesn’t use the typical naturalism that preliminary acting classes preach,” Geisler says. “This play doesn’t play by the same rules. It forces the cast to look beyond traditional methods of performance, which is freeing and scary.”
Romanian-French playwright Ionesco was one of the foremost figures of the French avant-garde theater. Beyond ridiculing the most banal situations, Ionesco's plays depict the solitude and insignificance of human existence in a tangible way. “The Bald Soprano,” his best known play, was first produced in Paris in 1950.
Although it went unnoticed at first, the play was eventually championed by a few established writers and critics and, in the end, won critical acclaim. By the 1960s, “The Bald Soprano” had already been recognized as a modern classic and an important seminal work in the Theatre of the Absurd.
“I love this play. It gives everyone a headache when we try to rehearse it, but that’s the joy of it!” Geisler says. “We get to dive deep into a theatrical frontier where meaning loses meaning and plot loses relevance. There’s something to the mystery of the play that makes each discovery feel profound. It feels like we’re uncovering new truths about the world at every rehearsal.”
“Conform” is a coming-of-age comedy with a twist. Sam, a teenager with Tourette’s Syndrome, battles his way through high school with the help of his imagined superhero persona. This fast-paced, incisive play examines the nature of masculinity and ponders whether disabilities may sometimes seem like superpowers in disguise.
Playwright Joe McNaney is a 2017 graduate of Muhlenberg’s Theatre Program. He currently lives in Chicago, where he is pursuing a career in comedy. “Conform” reflects his own history growing up with Tourette Syndrome and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“There was not enough attention paid to these people because they were different,” McNaney writes in his introduction to the play. “There was not enough money given to help these people because we had a good football team. I love football. There were not enough committed teachers to help these people because they were asked to do too much…. I hope this play addresses that.”
Martinko says her job as director has been to find both the humor and fantasy of McNaney’s play — but at the same time to find the underlying insights.
“The play is this ridiculous, over the top, hilarious comedy,” Martinko says. “But it’s also deeply personal and truthful, and that’s why I was initially drawn to it. We’re telling a simple coming-of-age story about a high school student with a disability, and that’s really at the core of this piece. But I think that people might be surprised by the way that we’re telling it.”
McNaney notes that, due to the nature of Tourette Syndrome, the play contains some harsh, potentially offensive language.
“I would ask that you attempt to look into why the language is being used,” he says, “as opposed to letting strong language distract from the rest of the play.”
Martinko says this project is unlike any she’s worked on before.
“This has easily been one of the most challenging shows that I’ve ever worked on, but also definitely one of the most fun,” she says. “We’re constantly laughing through rehearsals and I’m so excited to share that laughter with an audience.”
“New Voices / New Visions 2” is intended or mature audiences. Performances will take place in the Studio Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance. Showtimes are Wednesday, Nov. 29 through Friday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2, at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $15. Youth and student tickets are $8. Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or 484-664-3333.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance. The department was founded in 1983; the theater major was established in 1978, and the dance major was established in 1993.