Theater Department takes on the ‘absurd’

(From left) Sarah Wilson, director David Smith-English, Daphne Starling, and Matt Morrison watch a rehearsal of "A Delicate Balance." Photo by Adam J. Manley

Director David Smith-English wasn’t afraid of a challenge when he chose Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” for the Theater Department’s winter show.

“This is not easy stuff,” said Smith-English. “This is challenging stuff and the intelligence, the preparation, the talent that [the actors] bring to this — and the willingness to be open and work — has made the process very exciting.”

Artist-In-Residence John Renner (bottom) rehearses with students Sarah Griswold (left) and Daphne Starling on a partially completed set.

Best known for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Albee is a playwright known for writing intelligent shows with a staggering amount of complexity. With scripts so real that they seem unreal, it is far too easy for a novice director or performer to miss crucial subtext in the dialogue.

“I had the opportunity to speak with [Albee] about 10 years ago when he came on campus,” said Smith-English. “We were doing one of his plays at the time — ‘The Lady From Dubuque’ — and he came to one of the rehearsals.

Albee was there to give a speech and the reception afterward was held at Smith-English’s house.

“When he came in he said, ‘David, let’s go someplace, in another room where we can be alone, and talk about our play,'” said Smith-English.

Revitalized by the experience of actually discussing the performance with the original playwright, Smith-English believes “The lady From Dubuque” was an astounding success. He carries that unique perspective with him as he brings “A Delicate Balance” to life.

Director David Smith-English (left, foreground) observes carefully as Artist-In-Residence John Renner (center) rehearses dialogue with Matt Morrison (right) with other cast members looking on from upstage. Photo by Adam J. Manley.

“A Delicate Balance” is about a dysfunctional family and their friends struggling to maintain balance in their lives and relationships. Hard to pin down as either comedy or drama, it finds itself categorized as theater of the absurd — a classification which Albee finds absurd in itself.

When compared to his works, the innate absurdity of many non-absurdist writers, such as Neil Simon, becomes apparent. The same complexity which can make Albee’s works a challenge to understand also makes them more like life.

Yet, even after discussing this with Albee, Smith-English still prefers the absurdist genre to describe Albee’s works.

“In absurdist theater there’s always a force that enters into people’s lives that you can’t control, you can’t even understand, you sometimes can’t even identify it,” Smith-English explains. “It just drops into your life, and you have to deal with it in some way. And oftentimes people can’t deal with it at all, but it’s still there and it won’t go away.”

(From left) Sarah Wilson, director David Smith-English, Daphne Starling, and Matt Morrison watch a rehearsal of “A Delicate Balance.” Photo by Adam J. Manley

“A Delicate Balance” opens in the Osterman Theatre on March 2 and performs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. until March 12.


This article was originally published in The Clackamas Print.

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