Goucher's new theater opens with ancient play


An experimental translation of Aristophanes' broad classic comedy, "Lysistrata," will inaugurate the new Mildred Dunnock Theatre on March 2 in the recently completed Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Arts Center on the Goucher College campus.

The sleek fieldstone and wood $3.3 million arts center also houses the college's complete visual arts programs including painting, sculpture, drawing and photography. A large art gallery displays student works in progress.

Designed by architects Cho, Wilks, and Benn, the arts center is an L-shaped structure enclosing 25,000 square feet. "The concept took two and one-half to three years to plan," said Michael Simon-Curry, who is entering his fourth year as theater department chairman.

"We wanted the performing area to be as flexible as possible to accommodate every kind of production. Every work has a different configuration."

The grand two-story teaching theater named after the noted actress (a 1922 Goucher graduate) has been constructed to adjust to any stage style whether it be proscenium, round, or thrust.

Dunnock's most noted role is that of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of Salesman." She starred in both the New York and movie versions. Other Broadway credits include "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "The Corn is Green" with Ethel Barrymore.

She was featured in the movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth" and played Elizabeth Taylor's mother in "Butterfield 8."

Softly padded black folding director's chairs set on portable platforms will seat 144 audience members. The computerized light board controls 100 lighting instruments with allowance for an additional 150.

A scene shop is adjacent to the vast theater. The double doors that separate this room from the theater can be opened up to lengthen the performing space. The lighting system extends to the end of the shop.

A state-of-the-art technical booth, a large costume shop, storage facilities, two sizable dressing rooms with lighted mirrors, a box office, theater classes and a "Green Room" where the students can talk, plan and work are all in the same area of the building.

"This is a completely different experience for us," said Curry. "Before, the actors were used to dressing in classrooms or hallways. The costume shop used to be in another building and (( the scene shop was in another. We had to hire a truck to go from building to building."

Curry was in the process of instructing several members of the Open Circle student theater company in a scene from "Lysistrata" on the new theater premises.

"This most modern of the Greek playwright's comedies, produced in 411 B.C. when Athens was on the verge of ruin in the Peloponnesian War, was translated by Douglass Parker, who has given the play a more contemporary and American tone," the director explained.

In Aristophanes' play the leader of the Athenian women, Lysistrata, persuades the warriors' wives to join with her in a sex protest. The damsels refuse themselves to their husbands until the men agree to make peace.

Bawdy and frank in its sexual nature, the work also makes the point of the folly of war.

"It is considered by many to be one of the first feminist plays," said Curry. "Parker's contemporary translation contains some American idioms and even has one character in the Greek play quoting Shakespeare."

The production incorporates a new program, the Senior Project, in which graduating theater students work for half the year on concept and historical research. The second semester they stage the play.

Each actor has a backstage job. "Lucia Bowes, who plays Lysistrata, designed the costumes, an eclectic mix of modern and classical Greek," said Curry. "The set was designed by Theresa Webb and the lighting by Melanie Bladt."

There are 22 students in the cast -- seven men and 15 women. "Five of the male roles are played by women as men," said Curry. "The characters are written as extreme stereotypes of men -- caricatures."

To add to the timely tone, one of the characters will sing and play the guitar. The music includes classical, modern and some rock 'n' roll. A synthesizer is being used to create sound effects.

The six-level set will be enhanced by Greek column replicas embellished with an impressionistic suggestion of a phallic symbol (a significant emblem in Aristophanes' original work).

"But this is not as exposed as in the playwright's day," said Curry, laughing.

A stylized, theatrical painting of the Acropolis and a frieze of Greek soldiers fighting with shields and swords hang in the background.

"Our whole focus is geared toward teaching. That is our mission," said Curry. "We are going to stage a wide spectrum of great plays -- works that offer the best universal learning experiences."

"Lysistrata" is being staged at 8 p.m. March 2, 8, and 9, and at 2 p.m. March 3 (followed by a "Curtain Talk.") General admission is $5; $4 for students; $3 for students with Goucher ID; $2 for senior citizens.

For tickets and information, call the Goucher College Office of Public Events at 337-6333.

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