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.
Joe Borkowski ’08, with Lauren Dubowski ’08 of Bryn Mawr one of the co-directors of this year’s Senior Company production, describes the play as a “tale of guilt and innocence told in tableau.”
The show, Dea Loher’s Innocence, is having its North American premiere this weekend in the Frear Ensemble Theater at LPAC. Originally written in 2003, the play is a distillation of a lot of prior work by Loher, and was based off of a supertitle translation by David Tushingham. “We have unconfirmed reports that it’s been performed in Ghana,” says Borkowski, but apart from that they were in largely uncharted waters. Some of the script was composed of an odd combination of stage direction, dialogue, and prose that made articulating it into a stage production a challenge.
They have met this challenge in diverse and interesting ways that definitely seem to serve the text; improv, modern dance, commedia dell’arte, and shadow theater, among others, all make appearances throughout the evening. While some parts are looser, others are highly choreographed. This was not merely the work of the directors, but the actors had a significant role in developing the form the play took. As Dubowksi explained, “there’s a lot of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’ in the process,” which is to say that all of the scenes were attempted in various ways and while one was settled on more than the others, nuances from the variations made their way into the ultimate performances.
Josh Cohen ’09, one of the actors in the production, attested to the difficulty of the work. “It’s a slog. There’s no way to do this half-assed; you either do it all the way or not at all,” he said, alluding to the length of the evening, which, including a 15-minute intermission, lasts three-and-a-half rewarding hours. “The classics are the classics, but it’s great to do something contemporary” and dealing with “issues that are coming out of our world.”
Cohen stands as the great earthy life force standing at the center of the play; his African immigrant who attempts to move past guilt is a marvel to watch. Stefan Graf ’09 portrays his friend and foil with a deep sense of grief, growing visibly more troubled as the play progresses. As a blind erotic dancer, Stephanie Duncan ’08 convincingly shows her inability to see while conveying the greater insight into character that seems to accompany it. Rachel Sugar ’08 gives her typically outstanding work, and her guilty mother persona gives her exciting comic possibilities.
Sarah Choi ’08, as a older woman trying to retell her past with more excitement, displays a similarly comic panache. Giannina Esquivel ’08 is weary, long-neglected, and manifests her torment with the sort of languor that has well marked a number of her performances; Jesse Gottschalk ’09 initially seems comic but then is immersed into a world that heartbreakingly saps whatever life force he had.
Joanna Wright ’08 presides as a sort of fate over the entire proceeding in a properly eerie fashion. Alumnus Benjamin Camp ’05 milked comedy from the tapping of a jeweler’s tools, and Anne Kolker ’08, as an aged philosopher who stands in for the author, shows the intellectual distress that can lead to cause for true guilt.
Borkowski correctly describes the play’s tone as one that stretches the gamut from “very gentle to frenetically explosive.” His claim that there is “nothing narrative about the play” while clearly partially true, can only be taken as partially true; these characters do engage on journeys of some kind, even if the final stage direction of “she goes into the future” seems about as ambiguous as is possible. Also, that the actors are occasionally speaking not only as their characters but as themselves certainly locates Loher’s work in the German theatre tradition that includes Bertolt Brecht.
For the audience, though, the great tragedy will be the missed connections of these lives on the stage. In a certain sense, as Borkowski says, “none of them actually do connect”; if they ever do, it is but fleetingly. This is a highly worthwhile night or afternoon of theatre.
Innocence will take place at 8:30 pm Friday and Saturday, December 7 & 8, and at 3:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday, December 8.