In McDaniel College visiting professor John Moletress' play "Wendell," the 19th century work "Woyzeck" by German playwright Georg Buchner has been updated, transforming the story of a soldier stationed in a German town to a piece about the modern suburban family.

Moletress said he used much of his own background — including coming out to his family and community — as the basis for the emotional beats of the play.


"It's all filtered through the view of this weird German avant-garde play, because I felt like coming out at that time was a little German and avant-garde," Moletress said.

Moletress described the play, opening Wednesday at McDaniel, as oscillating between the land of realism and a dreamscape of a fantastical land, while using an out-of-order chronology mimicking the unfinished structure of "Woyzeck." Each of the characters in the show inhabits classic a role, dressed as a soldier, cowboy, prom queen or football player among others.

Moletress said he's purposefully playing off of the pop imagination.

"For the TV world, it's got fights, it's got gun shots, it's got sex and it's got violence," Moletress said. "It's got all of the ingredients of a good 'Game of Thrones' episode."

Moletress, an artist and actor who has toured his solo show throughout the country and abroad, said "Wendell" represents his foray into writing a full-length, mostly original play. Buchner died in the midst of writing "Woyzeck," leaving a number of disconnected scenes. The play was eventually pieced together by other writers, though the structure remained disjointed. Moletress said he played with time, space and reality in a way to recapture the original play's nature.

"I usually work in devised works, which is more about taking a big pot, like cooking, and you put in all of the elements, like found texts or other pieces and you create the work." Moletress said. "It's a bit of an excursion for me. It took a while, and I kept putting it down and revisiting it."

Bryan Bowen, a McDaniel freshman from North Beach, plays Andrew, a football player struggling with his feelings for Wendell. He said working with Moletress has been a completely new experience for him.

"I'll be honest: At first I did not like it because I wasn't used to it. I haven't had much in the way of acting training — I just kind of acted," Bowen said. "I didn't understand why he was having us do the things we did until recently when we put it all together. It was almost like he Mr. Miyagi-ed us. He was teaching us in a way that we didn't see the real purpose until we started to put the show together."

Bowen said one of the techniques Moletress used was having the actors sit together in character and acting out scenes that don't appear in the show. Bowen said he never appears in the play with the actors playing his mother and father, but the three of them rehearsed constantly to develop the family relationships.

Emily Wendler, a senior from Baltimore, said she really appreciated being able to act under a director who was also the playwright of the piece.

"Sometimes you'll hear a line and think it's really poetic, and it takes a couple of reads before it really sinks in," Wendler said. "There's a wonderful dreamlike state in which these people exist. It's been so great to work with [Moletress], since he was also the writer. You got to hear about what the characters meant to him and his head space."

Bowen said the play raises a lot of questions, both thematic and dramatic, by its conclusion.

"Everybody's going to have a different look on it. The motivations and game of the story are very different in everybody's eyes," Bowen said. "I'm not even sure what happens next at the end of the story. It's fun because I'm in it with the audience at that moment."

Moletress said it is up to the audience to decide what they want to take from the piece.


"I don't ever do work where there's some sort of moralistic statement or button at the end of the sentence," Moletress said. "I always think that in all of the work I do, there's some kind of question or inquiry at the end that's very open-ended."


If You Go

What: "Wendell"

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15; Thursday, April 16; Friday, April 17; and Saturday, April 18

Where: WMC Alumni Hall, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors, students, veterans and the McDaniel College community

For more information: Call 410-857-2448.

"Wendell" contains adult situations and graphic sexual language and is recommended for mature audiences only.