Saint Louis University

Saint Louis University 1995-1996 Theater Season

Lysistrata | Waiting for the ParadeThe Voice of the Prairie | Lettice and Lovage

 Lysistrata by Aristophanes

First produced in 411 B.C., this is a timely comedy from the ancient world. Under the leadership of a determined Athenian, Lysistrata, the women of the warring city-states of Greece unite in refusing their husbands all sexual favors until they agree to bring peace to the land. Both men and women find the sex strike a painful sacrifice, and eventually the women's resolve forces the men to realize that the glories of battle are much easier to foreswear than the joys of intimacy.

 Waiting for the Parade by John Murrell

Set in Calgary during World War II, this play reminds us that the wounded are not always at the front. Five women gather to work for the war effort while men they love are away. The Ottawa Citizen called this play, which premiered in 1977, "a small masterpiece." The play has also been produced to great acclaim in London, New York, and at Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre where it featured both Laurie Metcalf and Joan Allen.

An American playwright who lives in Calgary, Alberta, Mr. Murrell interviewed women in the town about their home-front experiences during World War II. The play, culled from their reminiscences, consists of five women, each representing a member of the Red Triangle Hostesses, a volunteer group that reportedly operated a U.S.O. like center in a Calgary train station where soldiers dropped in." This quote, taken from a New York Times review, is an apt description of the origin, situation and characters of the play.

Waiting for the Parade is a character drama. In a series of episodic, snapshot vignettes, Murrell focuses on the women who shared a common purpose; to serve the war effort and,perhaps more importantly, to survive the war. It is in the character choices of how to survive that Murrell seems most interested asking that we view them with a sense of compassion and understanding and without moral judgement. When Marta is asked to comment on Catherine's action she replies "I don't think about people that way. I just think, "so that's how she manages to stay alive. I wonder if it would work for me."

In a 1995 interview Murrell is quoted as saying "... one of the great mysteries is the idea that women, historically and socially, have been relegated to positions of less authority and less control. And yet by far the strongest, most influential people I've known, in life as well as in the business of art, have been women."

While I do not feel the play is about World War II, it surely is the context in which the action takes place. Particular to this script is the fact that conscription (equivalent to our "draft") was a heated political issue in Canada, with some feeling that the troops should never be assigned to foreign shores. Eventually, conscription was enforced and encompassed the young teenagers who were Eve's students.

The gathering of the women to give comfort and solace to Catherine was the result of the loses the Canadians suffered in the battle of Dieppe "which involved 4,963 men of the 2nd Canadian Division. Only 2,211 returned to England, ... 656 died in the raid, and 1,946 became prisoners-of-war...".

Marta, the German born, naturalized citizen of Canada is treated as "the enemy" simply because she is of German descent. Many immigrants were treated badly in Canada (as they were in the United States) simply because patriotism became a sufficient explanation for any unfortunate incident which may occur.

 The Voice of the Prairie by John Olive

"Have you ever had a wonderful dream -- or a horrible dream, for that matter -- and it leaves you with the feeling that you absolutely must tell someone about it. But when you try, you can't ?" One of the characters in John Olive's The Voice Of The Prairie wonders if that's what life is. For it isn't only our dreams, but also our real lives that are made up of wonderful as well as sad -- even horrible -- events. Our fullest appreciation of them sometimes depends on finding just the right words to describe them: a gift of the imagination that makes our reality rich with detail.

The Voice Of The Prairie is about a few people whose lives intersect. Thanks to the imagination of the play's author, the intertwining of these characters is made more vivid by genuine theatrics: three actors play all of the various characters, and they do so on one small set that represents locations from Kansas City to Mountain Home, Arkansas. Their adventures -- some of them extraordinary and others very simple -- slowly come together to form lives that make sense to them. Good storytellers have always been able to find just the right words to connect threads of detail for their listeners, weaving those threads together into a satisfying ending. In this play, all of the characters try to tell their stories to each other, but it is one bit of real magic that pulls the threads together. One of the characters calls it "the magic of the ether" because, originally, many people believed it had to do with some magical properties of our atmosphere. They were partly right; it was Radio.

In 1912 a 15 year old wireless operator was working for the American Marconi Company at a wireless telegraph station on Nantucket. He received news through his headphones that the R.M.S.Titanic had struck an iceberg. For 72 hours the operator stayed at his listening post and received the names of survivors as they were rescued by a neighboring ship. Several years later, his company having been purchased by a new and larger conglomerate, this same operator was now in New York and in the employ of the new Radio Corporation of America. The young man's name was David Sarnoff. In a memo to his superiors he made an audacious suggestion.

"I have in mind a plan of development which would make radio a household utility. The idea is to bring music into the home by wireless. The receiver can be designed in the form of a simple 'radio music box' and arranged for several different wavelengths which should be changeable with the throwing of a single switch . . . . "

It was an idea Sarnoff had already pitched to his supervisors at the American Marconi Company, but they had ignored it. His new bosses at RCA decided the idea should be pursued, even though RCA was founded as a wireless communication service and this new idea would necessitate building radio receivers in mass quantity and convincing ordinary citizens to buy them.

Pitchmen streamed across the country. They set up simple transmitting equipment in small town shops, sometimes only for a few days. They scrounged records and coaxed from the townspeople whatever live entertainment they could, and urged those who picked up the transmission to tell their neighbors about what they heard. The radios sold for as little as $10.00 in the local hardware or department store. There were few able entertainers for the new medium, but even fewer laws regulating it. By 1922 RCA's income from the sale of home radios was three times greater than its revenues from its primary function as a communication service.

This play brings together one of these traveling radio salesmen with a rural bachelor whose boyhood adventures roaming the countryside with his first and only love provide a wealth of romantic tales to charm radio listeners across the Midwest. This imaginative play has been staged throughout the country since its debut in 1986. The New York Times praised it saying, "the play has its own staying power; a lingering quality and a shimmering way with words.", and The Los Angeles Times called it "...a deft and witty valentine to a pioneering spirit and to the value of words...It's fun, it has a knowing heart and a voice which should delight all within earshot."

 Lettice and Lovage by Peter Shaffer

Lettice Duffet, expert on Elizabethan cuisine and medieval weaponry, is an indefatigable enthusiast of history and theatre. She lectures as a tourist guide at Fustian House - one of the least stately, least interesting of Britain's stately homes. Fustian House has so little importance, in fact, that Lettice begins to embellish the story of its historical past; and as time progresses, we see her standard lecture grow in theatricality and romance, even as it strays from the facts.

Soon, this becomes of grave concern to Lotte Schon, an inspector from the Preservation Trust, who is not at all impressed or entertained by Lettice's uninhibited "history lessons". Lotte fires Lettice; but gradually, she becomes fascinated by Lettice's unusual past and her romantic world-view, her refusal to accept the mediocre and the second rate, into which so much of modern life has degenerated. Eventually, the two women become bosom buddies, and forge an alliance - to awaken their fellow citizens to the dreariness of their lives.

This play by the author of Equus and Amadeus was a smash hit in London and on Broadway featuring a triumphant performance by Dame Maggie Smith as the flamboyant Lettice Duffet.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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