Pompeii Revisited at the Fringe

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.

In “The Destruction of the City, and Also an Itinerary for Visitors,” Ad Hoc, a company made up of four current students and nine alums, brings the ruins of Pompeii to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The show will be performed on Friday, September 4 at 8pm and Saturday, September 6, at 7 and 10 pm in the CEC Meeting House Theatre.

The one act show, running fifty minutes with no intermission, examines Pompeii through five archeologists and the words of the only eye-witness testimony to survive Vesuvius, Pliny the Younger, played by Steph Duncan ‘08. Each of the archeologists offers a different historical vantage point for describing the ruined city, from Nicco Moretti’s character ’10, a looter who attributes the fall of Pompeii to Vulcan’s wrath, to Dan Perelstein’s ’09, a contemporary archeologist who explains the city’s destruction in more scientific terms.

The show reveals the limits in our own knowledge and ability to explain a phenomenon like the destruction of Pompeii. As Perelstein notes, it is virtually impossible to truly understand what happened at Pompeii: “The facts are buried. The facts are destroyed.” The details that become ‘history,’ however, are unearthed and examined in Ad Hoc’s production, casting question about the ways in which we record and define history.

“The Destruction of the City, and Also an Itinerary for Visitors” also touches upon the experience of destruction and disaster and what it means to survive this. Though the play is free of any explicit reference to contemporary events, contemporary incidents such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina influenced the group’s direction in tackling their subject.

The Ad Hoc company developed out of a group of Swarthmore students who worked together during their time at Swarthmore, including director Katie Van Winkle ’07, actors Nick Malakhow ’05, Rachel Sugar ’08, and Steph Duncan ’08.

During their productions at Swarthmore, a model performance developed in which the group used a collaborative process to create plays focusing on historical periods with scripts built upon a collage of other texts. The process by which Ad Hoc developed “The Destruction of the City, and Also an Itinerary for Visitors,” is true to this model. Though the music is all original, much of the script is found text with sources including a range of poets, the Koran, and Oprah Winfrey.

Ad Hoc received a Swarthmore Project and Theater grant which provided funding for living and theater space over the summer, though all other aspects of the project have been funded by the members of the company and private donors.

Much of the process of developing the performance was, as Perelstein puts it, “motivated by Fringe deadlines.” The intensely collaborative project evolved rapidly and dramatically as the group tried various titles, plots, and presentations. Perelstein recalls sufficient material for at least three or four other plays: “Every day there was a new script.”

Kim Comer ’09, set designer, met the challenge of designing a set for a show that experienced “a lot of different permutations.” She explains, “I wanted to make the set a palette that the actors could use and play off of…and also a blank canvas that they could impose the production on. It’s very flexible.”

Comer also notes that the collaborative process “blurred all of the lines. Everyone did everything and everyone worked together well.”

Of the collaborative process, musician Laura Wolk ’09 adds, “I had not had the opportunity to work collaboratively on projects at Swarthmore so far… The back and forth made it so much more fun. All of the actors and other musicians are completely brilliant and sometimes I would just sit back and watch them.”

Regarding future productions from Ad Hoc, Perelstein observes, “It’s not clear if Ad Hoc will last beyond this production. Personally, I would love for this to continue…. It will largely depend on the success of this show.”

While the production is part of the week long Fringe Festival, the performance will only be running this Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available online at www.livearts-fringe.org or by calling the Fringe Festival Box Office (215.413.1318). Tickets cost $5 for students and patrons under 25 (general admission is $10). The Theater is a short walk from either University City or 30th Street Station. More information on Ad Hoc can be found on the group’s myspace account, myspace.com/adhoctheater.

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