Writer Reflects on First WC Theater Production

By Laiken Harrigan
Elm Staff Writer

It’s hard to believe that a play written over a century ago could address the same issues that society deals with today, but Washington College theater’s production of “Major Barbara” did just that. The play, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1908, stirs major questions about the definitions of morality and explores the gray area between right and wrong.

In the director’s note in the program, Assistant Professor of Theater Brendon Fox said, “The place of spirituality in modern life, the crime of poverty, and is there such a thing as ‘pure’ money or motivations in this world is just as pressing and complicated in 2017 as they were in 1908.”

Junior Iz Clemens, left, who played Jenny Hill, has her hair pulled by junior Meghan McPherson, right, who played Billie Walker in “Major Barbara” at WC.
Junior Iz Clemens, left, who played Jenny Hill, has her hair pulled by junior Meghan McPherson, right, who played Billie Walker in “Major Barbara” at WC.

Every character in the play struggles with their perception of what morality looks like. There was no real conclusion or definition of “good,” but instead how good and bad can be intertwined in complex circumstances. Between characters like Andrew Undershaft and Major Barbara Undershaft, with seemingly opposed positions, the audience was dealt elaborate scenarios that begged for personal reflection about what is morally right.

There was a noticeable tension between the youth and the adults in the play, which was accentuated by the casting of both professors and students. Student actors interacted with chair of the English department Dr. Kate Moncrief, who played Lady Britomart Undershaft, and Professor Emeritus Tim Maloney, who played Andrew Undershaft.

Not only were the character choices unique, but the staging of the performance was unlike any other recent WC play. The audience was seated on the Decker Theatre stage, with four risers with folding chairs on top facing a circular dais, which made the center stage, creating an intimate setting. Viewers were not just watching the play in front of them, but watching the show all around them as the actors entered and left. Because the seating was on stage, the size of the audience was limited to around 100 seats.

While it was a special occasion to get to be so close to the performance, there were challenges in creating this smaller stage.

Stage Manager Shannon Lawn, senior, said, “There were many challenging firsts for this play; [this was the] first time many of us worked [on a show] in Decker, or in the round, the first time we performed for four days in a row, the first time we had a mixed group of professors and students and emeritus professors working together on a production.”

Another dynamic aspect of the play was how the performers worked together to create relationships onstage. This was especially prominent in the scene where Billie Walker, played by junior Meghan McPherson, attacks the character Jenny Hill, played by junior Iz Clemens.

“I loved working with Meghan because in order to do scenes like this, you have to be able to trust your scene partner. There are just a few inches of difference between doing a super cool, convincing fake hit and actually getting smacked in the face,” she said. “I feel like we communicated really well throughout the process, allowing each other to make mistakes, and we worked together to correct them.”

“Major Barbara” provoked modern questions, and provided a space for many different actors to all come together to create a distinct stage of circumstances. For more information about productions happening on campus this year, visit the drama and dance department website at: www.washcoll.edu/departments/theatre-and-dance.

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