Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Riot Group kicked off its week-long residency at Swarthmore on Sunday with its play Hearts of Man, which examines pedophilia in our society. The play, by Adriano Shaplin, the Group’s leader, debuted on Sept. 5th. In the piece, a man has been arrested for “luring” a boy to have sex with him, and lawyers, the press, a judge, and a victim’s rights advocate battle over the man’s fate.
The alleged crime occurred online, and the “boy” was actually a detective. But the judge interprets a rape law which covers “penetration at any depth” to apply to the internet conversation between the accused and the nonexistent boy. Such nuances continue to unfold, and the audience is soon wrapped up in the real-life world of these bizarre prosecutions. The characters in the play seem just as engrossed as they struggle with each other and with the ethics of the case, wielding intense emotions derived from their professional roles and personal backgrounds.
The play took place on a stage set only with two partitions, two benches, and a telephone. Sporadic tom-tom beats and bell chimes helped modulate the audience’s emotional response without distracting from the action on stage. “You were constantly having dialogue thrown at you,” said Jessa Deutsch, ’10, “you have to try to think about it when you have space, or [after the play].
The whole audience paid rapt attention to the play, but one student had a particularly close involvement with the production. In a grand jury scene, “The actor…just looked at me and said, ‘you are the foreman’ and handed me this piece of paper,” said Isa St. Clair, ’11. She proceeded to read the jury’s verdict on the case to the audience.
Scenes like that one made the production concrete enough that it encouraged the audience to think about pedophilia instead of analyzing the play itself. “I was expecting…something more abstract,” said Louis Largow, ’10. “It was nice to get a firmer narrative that was not difficult for the audience to be interested in.”
In the post-show discussion, Shaplin called that narrative, “the truth.” “Every single thing that happens to [the accused] is the most likely thing that would happen to someone if they faced these charges,” he said.
However, the production was not overbearingly serious. After the show, the actors said that the play has attracted the same intense focus from each audience, but that the Swattie audience was a lot “braver” about laughing, probably, as Shaplin pointed out, because of the tight-knittedness of the college community.
Those who did not attend Sunday’s performance missed a unique experience. However, the Group is putting on a two-day workshop on theatre-making and playwriting Sept. 12 and 13. In addition, it will perform Shaplin’s play Pugilist Specialist, about four marines on a black ops mission, twice, Sept. 14 and 15 at 7:30 in LPAC.