Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.7

December 4, 2003


Curtain rises on graduate’s adaptation of Poe

by Scott McRae

Photo of  theatre workshop

The cast were given a course in bouffon techniques by director Robert Astle before rehearsals of Masque of the Red Death. He explained: “The French word bouffon is used since the English word buffoon is too limited in scope. The French word suggests a grotesque comic while retaining overtones of medieval mimers and licenced court fools or jesters such as the one who accompanies King Lear. Theatre students work through a process by building a mask which is extended to the entire body, giving the freakish effect of another body.”
by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

For only the second time, the Theatre Department will be staging a student-written production. Gillian Street’s Masque of the Red Death, a play inspired by the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe short story, will begin its run next week.

“It’s exciting to see it up on its feet, to see life in these characters that have just been words up until now,” said Street, a 2003 theatre graduate. “It’s also nerve-racking. It’s now in the hands of 30 other people I have to trust to do it right.”

Like the Poe tale, the play is about a macabre masquerade held in mad Prince Prospero’s castle, an aristocratic stronghold quarantined from the plague-infested outside world. While Street stays true to Poe’s hellish, claustrophobic vision, she explores not only the stealthy advance of pestilence but also the interactions of the courtiers, each of whom has a devilish buffoon as a mirror image.

“She’s created a piece where all the players are dead,” said part-time theatre professor Robert Astle, the play’s director. “They’re the living dead having a grand time.”

Street first began working on the play two years ago as an assignment for Kit Brennan’s playwriting course. The class was told to adapt a short story into a 20-minute play; Street submitted an hour-long, two-act production that impressed Brennan enough to circulate it to other professors. It piqued the interest of Robert Astle, who guided Street through a year-and-a-half rewrite process.

These rewrites didn’t end until mid-November, a month into rehearsal. This, explained Astle, is quite atypical for the department, as it usually puts on established plays.

“Birthing [a play] is always a difficult process,” Astle said. “Some of [the actors] blossomed, some of them freaked, but I’m thrilled by their commitment to the process.”

For faculty member and stage manager Anne Clark, this process helps fulfill the department’s main mandate for shows: to give students great experience and prepare them to earn a living on the stage. This particular play also gives them a chance to do choral speaking, to work as an ensemble and, because cast never exit into the wings, to learn how to constantly be in character, even when not part of the action.

“It’s a great learning process,” said the director. He’d love to see more student-written plays staged. For now, he’s focused on Street’s play, which opens next week.

What would Poe think of her adaptation? “It’s certainly something that he never would have expected,” Street said.

Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe, in a stage adaptation by Gillian Street, directed by Robert Astle, in the D.B. Clarke Theatre Dec. 11, 12, 13, 8 p.m., with matinées on Dec. 13 and 14 at 2 p.m. Call the Box Office at 848-4742 for tickets: $5 general admission.