Watching Jonathan Marc Sherman’s “Sophistry” is like watching Williams through a fishbowl.
Set “on the campus of a small New England college,” it is an accurate portrayal of life at Williams. It feels more like an entertaining, voyeuristic display of the campus itself.
One wonders to what degree playwright Sherman intended to replicate real life when he wrote Sophistry. Also questionable is whether he brought interpretations of other colleges besides Williams to the play. Williams is alluded to once in the script, but less specific references made to the cold, the isolation, and the snack bar, could easily be about the college.
Directors Erica Hyman ’98 and Cyd Fremmer ’98 expressed concern that the audience would misinterpret those allusions and believe they were intentionally placed there for effect. However, the intentions of the directors was not merely to replicate life at Williams, but to challenge it.
The story revolves around allegations of sexual molestation by an alcoholic tenured professor, Whitey McCoy, upon a troubled student, Jack Kahn. Whitey’s dismissal and consequent lawuit and settlement is timely in light of recent controversial tenure decisions and their appeals.
Paul Holt ’01 is intensely convincing and evocative as the professor, his character ranging from a quiet and reserved professional, to a frightening, alcoholic molester. Matt Roessing ’01 is equally stunning as a “messed up” student; his quivering body language and voice inflections are very impressive.
The alleged molestation forms the backdrop for the play, but “Sophistry” is about everyday life as well. There are entire scenes devoted to the type of hanging out and drinking which occurs on the campus; alcohol is frequently referred to and used as a prop.
Every Eph knows people on campus like the characters in the play. Most students should see themselves in one or more of the characters, from slackers Igor and Xavier (portrayed with great comic style by Duncan Meiklejohn ’01 and Hans Davies ’99) to the studious valedictorian Robin.
Alicia Currier ’00 is charming as Robin, whose character shows the greatest development throughout the play. A school reporter in search of the black and white truth, she learns that there is also a gray area of judgement. Her character development is seen in moments such as when she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend, Xavier.
Moreover, students should identify with the villainization of authority figures, such as the college’s principal played by Meadow Lin ’00. Meadow is strong but slightly constrained in her typecast role.
After Robin and Xavier break up, Xavier hooks up with Robin’s drinking, partying best friend Debbie, portrayed well by Gillian Green ’01. Debbie then declares, “this place can be such an incestuous little fishbowl.” The audience roared with laughter in response to this statement; moments like this make the play feel particularly like Williams.
The fishbowl metaphor is a constant thread throughout the piece. Robin has a goldfish named Anastasia, about whom Igor proclaims, “The name is bigger than the fish.” In a passionate rage after Robin rejects his drunken marriage proposal, Xavier swallows the live goldfish whole. It seems a powerful moment, but a problematic one in that it does not lend towards any simple interpretation of great meaning.
Currier said “It’s very true to life.it’s a little scary at times.” “Sophistry’s” lifelike quality is exactly why it should be analyzed.
The program sheds some light on the work. In it, Tim O’Brian is quoted as saying, “The facts don’t necessarily equal the truth.” The piece suggests that there are as many truths as there are sides to a story.
Various issues including that of compromise are explored towards the play’s resolution which culminates in a closing valedictorian speech. The speech is an important part of the play’s resoulution, and it offers great insight to the work.
Unfortuanately, despite Currier’s elegance, the speech fails to enlighten. Although it successfully closes the plot, it leaves no satisfying resolution with regards to the characters.
Indeed, greater character development was needed. Fortunately, great directors and a talented cast lent some richness to an otherwise average script.
“Sophistry” may well have veered too far into the realm of realism.
To an extent, the accurate portrayal of Williams life made the story easier to relate to; however, at times, it seemed too easy. Conjuring realism itself is not a difficult task; transcending realism with memorably unique situations is. In this regard, “Sophistry” could not take advantage of a potentially provocative forum.
According to Stephanie Frank ’01 “That’s a terribly accurate portrayal of much of Williams life. Unfortunately, the people who need to realize that are the people who were out living it.”
“It’s not about the language, it’s about what’s being said. It may be pretty, but what they’re saying isn’t, ” said Director Elba Holguin Urenda ’99 of her play “Aloud,” which played to a full house Friday and Saturday nights.
“Aloud” was as dark, moody and beautiful as the poetry the characters spoke, but as uncomfortable and painful as the lives they spoke of.
Taking her dialogue from a book of poetry, “Aloud,” which is based upon an open mike bar in Manhattan called the “Nuyrican Poets Cafâ€š,” Urenda created four characters. She portrayed a wide variety of backgrounds: a white homosexual man, a Latino incest victim, a Native American lesbian and an angry African American man with AIDS.
While the play was Urenda’s brainchild, the actors deserve much credit for the intensity and depth of the performance; Urenda said the actors helped shape the final development of the characters and the script.
The heart of the play was the acting; since it lacked a storyline, one focused on the mannerisms, words and emotions transmitted by the cast.
According to Dan Perttu ’01, “The acting was really wonderful.”
Eddie Murphy ’99 was fabulous as a homosexual man who has seen it all. Maintaining incredible energy while appearing expressively jaded throughout the play, one forgets he is acting.
The audience adored him in a scene where he donned make-up, a blond wig and declared he wanted to be a woman so he would not have to be a man.
Liz Hoover ’01, the lesbian character, also expressed incredible energy and vitality. At first, her character offers comic relief as the “Sex Goddess of the Western Hemisphere,” a play on 900 numbers and the conception of sexuality in modern society.
However, she soon grows somber, speaking explicitly of her desires for her mother to accept her sexuality and “just love her.” Her incredible stage presence as she told her life story shocked the audience.
Jerome Parker’s ’01 portrayal of the man with AIDS peaked towards the end of his performance. His rage and depth of emotional expression were impressive and he forcefully took hold of the stage.
Emmy Lou Diaz ’01, the incest victim, spoke with forceful vitality in her lines which detailed her past molestation by her father.
The set design was wonderfully minimal.
The backdrop for the stage was black, while the set enhanced the script’s New York open-mike, dimly-lit coffee-house feel. The darkness and the poetry created a meditative atmosphere where the words washed over the audience, allowing the character’s emotions to be absorbed.
The set focused on the stories as the objects of our attention, rather than elaborate lighting or design.
The play consisted of the four characters speaking soliloquies in turn, at times finishing each others’ sentences, but with little
No traditional conversation occurs.
Given only numbers, rather than names, the characters represent deliberate stereotypes.
Hoover said the play is like “All right, here I am, I’m going to talk about myself. Finally I’m allowed to and I’m just going to share my experiences.”
Maya Kapoor ’01 believed the piece was coherent, stating “I thought it was really cool the way Elba took pieces from different artists and made a cohesive piece out of it.” Adriana Hochberg ’99 shared Maya’s sentiments when she said, “It was interesting how Elba strung together different poems into a coherent story. I enjoyed it.”
According to Elba, the play has the “vitality of vulgarity.”
Indeed, “Aloud” was a beautiful, well crafted expression of the desire to be heard. It is about being allowed to be heard against a society that does not want to listen.