Theater Production Workshop presents bittersweet ‘Little Egypt’
A Bates College cast and crew present Lynn Siefert’s 1987 play Little Egypt, a bittersweet comedy about romance’s roller-coaster rides in a small Midwestern town, in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 15-16; 5 p.m. Saturday, May 17; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18.
Performances take place in Bates’ Gannett Theater, 305 College St. Tickets cost $6 and $3 for students and seniors 65-plus, and are available at batestickets.com. For more information, please call 207-786-6161.
Dana Professor of Theater Martin Andrucki directs Little Egypt as part of a course taking place during Short Term, the college’s intensive five-week spring semester.
Commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Little Egypt is set in the town of Cairo, Ill., and takes its name from the nickname of the state’s southern third. It debuted in 1987 and was later adapted as a musical by New York City’s Playwrights Horizons.
Mother Faye and her adult daughters, the hot ticket Bernadette and the nerdish lost soul Celeste, work together as waitresses while negotiating volatile love affairs with, respectively, the mayor of Cairo; an aggressive jerk called Watson; and Watson’s roommate Victor, a shy, goofy security guard suffering the effects of military service in Vietnam.
Audiences “will really be able to relate to these characters,” says Andrucki. “These are hardworking ordinary folks, the kind of people you meet in everyday life.”
For his student actors, Andrucki adds, “I thought this play would be something that students could understand, emphasize with — it’s a way of simultaneously expanding their experience as actors and as human beings.
“And of course, it’s a funny play and it’s also a sad play. So it touches a wide range of emotions in a way that is challenging to our students as actors.”
The production is the result of the Theater Production Workshop, a course aimed at the college’s most experienced theater students. The workshop uses Short Term, in which each student concentrates on a single course, to create a professional-style work environment.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to experience a real living laboratory in acting, in particular, and in design and directing,” says Andrucki. “They concentrate full-time on what they are doing, the way the grown-ups do it.”
Accounts vary as to how Illinois’ Little Egypt got its nickname. One explanation is that the region, bordered on three sides by major rivers, resembles Egypt’s Nile Valley. The Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet at Cairo, and Andrucki — without revealing how it will be depicted on stage — notes that the river runs right through the play’s plot, so to speak.
Celeste, who returns to Cairo after 12 years in college, originally fled “shortly after her father committed suicide in the river,” Andrucki says. “The river has a kind of spiritual aura throughout the play. A number of important scenes are set at the river’s edge, including the last scene, which is the emotional resolution for one of the two sisters.”
Playing the role of Faye is sophomore Allie Freed from Magnolia, Mass. Daughter Bernadette is a New York City native, senior Singha Hon, and daughter Celeste is another New Yorker, Colette Girardin, a sophomore from East Moriches, N.Y.
Sam James, a first-year student from Raleigh, N.C., portrays Watson, while Ciaran Walsh, a junior hailing from Washington, D.C., plays Victor. Rounding out the cast of characters is junior Jon Schwolsky of North Caldwell, N.J., as Hugh.
Behind the scenes, Little Egypt’s stage manager is Benjamin Cuba, a sophomore from Worcester, Mass., and assistant stage manager is first-year student Jacqueline Cooper from Hazel Crest, Ill. Chris Makrides, a senior from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, is props master.
In addition to Andrucki, faculty members involved in the production are sound, lighting and set designers Michael Reidy and Justin Moriarty; and Carol Farrell, costume designer.