By Juliana Tate
What do our teachers do when they aren’t in school? For the past few weeks, our theater director, TJ, starred in a play, or more specifically an “absurdly satirical indictment of the excesses of both men and women.” Over the summer, TJ joined a wonderfully talented cast of seventeen local actors to produce the American premiere of Fanny Burney’s five act play entitled The Woman Hater, directed by Christine McBurney. The story follows a wealthy noblemen, Sir Roderick, who, after having his heart broken by the learned, yet ditzy, Lady Smatter, resolves to spend his years avoiding and keeping his young heir away from the opposite sex.
When I and several other Hawken students inquired about seeing the show, we were informed that it was “quite a commitment,” running three hours in length with a classic 1800s British dialect. Undaunted, we purchased our $15 student tickets and made the trek through the grandiose building up to the theatre- a quaint setting of fifty-four seats, about half of which were filled with elderly people ready to have a jolly good time on a Friday night. Talking with the cast afterwards, we confirmed that we were their youngest audience members by several decades. As the show began, we definitely felt that TJ’s warnings rang true. It took a couple of minutes to adjust to the strange vernacular of the characters, and a few more minutes to fully invest in their conflicts. Halfway into the second half, we agreed that our young group of audience members hit a wall of sorts. The words again began to sound foreign and it was difficult to pay attention to the plot. Luckily, we all got a second wind for the ending, and nobody fell asleep, which would have been disastrous for the feelings of the actors, who were six feet away from us and would’ve noticed immediately.
It was really interesting to watch professional actors up close, seeing as we were only ten feet away at the most. As Sir Roderick, Doug Kusak was delightfully entertaining as he grumbled at the silly affairs of the other characters, and he did it all in a pair of two inch heels. Leading as Lady Smatter was another familiar face to the Hawken community, Shakespearian instructor Carrie Williams, whose portrayal of a memory challenged academic was both hilarious and truthful. Another highlight was Evan Thompson, who played the young heir. His ridiculously spindly physicality combined with his boyish energy made him a joy to watch. TJ played Wilmot, a lovesick father who had separated from his wife under a false pretense that she had cheated on him. Adding to the drama was the fact that she had actually stolen their daughter, but their maid put her own daughter in the stolen child’s place so that she could be raised in a privileged manor as Wilmot’s daughter. TJ led with an amazing aura of dignity; his passionate inner monologue left the audience hanging on every word. The cheering was very real when he and his fake daughter reunited with his wife and real daughter to become a family, unlike anything they could have ever dreamt.
Another aspect of the show that was interesting was the subtle set changes undertaken by people in costume. It was such a minor detail, but putting a costume on the boy whose only job was to move one chair every thirty minutes really assisted in keeping the audience engaged. The set, both minimal and beautiful, was able to create several different places with minor changes, which attributed to a graceful and smooth run.
One of the biggest takeaways of this production was learning about the quality theatre that remains hidden in the pockets of Cleveland. These smaller theatres don’t get nearly as much support as they deserve, and it is such a shame that shows like this only pull audiences of thirty people when they produce extremely well done and professional shows. Our theatrical director, TJ, is both a phenomenal professional actor and an extraordinary resource to our theatre program, and we are so lucky to have him. It was so cool to see him in his element, completely immersed in performing. It was amazing to be able to watch and support TJ, who is always supporting and watching us.