The St. Olaf Theater Department has yet another show included in their fall productions. “Parables on the Edge of Time” opened on the weekend of Nov. 12, and it will include a second weekend of performances on Nov. 19-21.
This show is the culmination of research and devising spearheaded by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater Bryan Schmidt. Schmidt is known for his devised work, a process often called collective creation, where a script or performance comes out of collaboration or improvisatory work by a performing ensemble.
In the case of “Parables on the Edge of Time,” this production combined two existing one-act plays and added new scenes and characters to put them in conversation with each other. The two existing shows included in this production are “The Insanity of Mary Girard” by Lanie Robertson and “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell.
The production opened with two characters traveling through time, having been pushed off their time paths, lost in space and floating between decades. These two characters, the Visionary Historian played by Mary Maker ’23 and the Warrior played by Elena Pierson ’24, ground the play in a theme of imagination – that history spans all time and gives us lessons for today.
Those two time travelling characters witness a woman, Mary Girard, strapped into a tranquilizing chair, a type of torture device for people deemed insane in the late 1700s. This is how we enter into the first one-act.
“The Insanity of Mary Girard” was haunting. Following the story of a woman institutionalized by her husband, we watched her unwind, interact with various people in her life, and come to terms with the future of a life within a grim, eerie, and bleak hospital.
Mary, played by Dorienne Hoven ’22, was a force on stage. She went through a rollercoaster of emotions, representing both immense strength in the face of hopelessness as well as intimate vulnerability. The show was held by the ‘furies,’ different characters that represented ghosts, and changing characters within Mary’s psyche. Dressed in all white, they creepily moved through the space, representing Mary’s various voices, as well as other hospitalized people. They inhabited the space with amazing power and presence, embodying the supernatural.
The second story, “Trifles,” began with two crime podcasters getting lost in one of the crimes that they were about to unpack for their listeners. Whilst recording a podcast episode, they suddenly lose sense of time, and find themselves in the house of a man who was recently murdered. This story takes us through the investigation of the murder, giving voice to the way that women in the 1900s had a secret communication of their own.
Instead of the men in authority assigned to solve the case, women in the background are able to put pieces of it together because of small hints left by the man’s wife in their house. This telling was powerful in a gentler way than the Mary Girard piece, it focused on guiding the audience to recognize the capability and strength of women. It draws you to think about who controls stories, and how general narratives may be false.
The lighting and sound design stood out throughout the entire production. Flashing lights, various colors, and effects made the madness all the more obvious for the audience. The sound cues were crisp and well timed to heighten certain moments of tension or spiraling. The sound was designed by Parker Love ’22, with lighting designed by Ariel Bodnar-Klein ’23.
Both stories meticulously unpacked what it means to be ignored and misunderstood, while also recognizing the scary and mysterious quality of time. These stories gave voice to the experiences of women in the past, forcing us to think about how madness and womanhood have been connected in the U.S.
If you are interested in some historical, feminist, imaginative theatre, then “Parables on the Edge of Time” is for you. The show is approximately two and a half hours in length and will be performed in Kelsey Theater on Nov. 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m., as well as on Nov. 21 at 2:00 p.m. Students are eligible for one free ticket by registration on the St. Olaf website. Students can also show up without reserving a ticket on a first-come first-serve basis.