Monday, May 5, 1997

Theater Review: Middlebury shines in Washington

Published in the Mountainview

On the Theater Lab stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., another Middlebury College play was performed this year. This time it was Dan O'Brien '96 wo wrote the play "The Last Supper Restoration," directed it and acted in it. For his writing, he won the National Student Playwriting Award, sponsored in part by the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival.

The seats were filled to capacity, and hopeful attendees without tickets were turned away at the door. The re-staging of the play was impressive, given the time limitations and the fact that the original play had been so closely tied to the Middlebury College Studio Theater space in which it was first performed.

A significant revision of the original Middlebury production, this version was the one which went to the Irene Ryan Festival in Boston last autumn; the reworking succeeded at clarifying and simplifying a piece whose intellectual depth was matched by the quality of the company's performance. (Disclosure: the part of Caterina was played by my sister, Katherine Inglis '98.)

The cast and crew were in at least three countries and three states the week before the production went up at the Kennedy Center; airlines and car-rental companies no doubt rejoiced when they heard that O'Brien would be coming from Ireland, Coert Voorhees would fly in from Chile, Ted Dowling from Seattle, Nick Molander and Katherine Inglis from Vermont, and others from Vermont and New York City. The diaspora of the company is a testament to its level of ability; their capacity to perform the play for the first time in three months after only a couple of days of rehearsal is nothing short of phenomenal.

Dealing with three different time periods in the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, the play is a detailed amalgam of the lives of Leonardo da Vinci, a restorer of da Vinci's "The Last Supper," and the son of that restorer. Blending the diverse threads of art, homosexuality, Nazism, Judaism, love, fear, and death (among others), "The Last Supper Restoration" is in itself a restoration of multi-level dramatic arts, when each speech had multiple meanings, and each character stood for something much more than just one person in a

O'Brien's National Student Playwriting Award is actually a series of awards, including cash awards, professional memberships and development opportunities, and the publication of his play by high-profile drama publisher Samuel French, Inc. In addition to those awards, O'Brien is currently on a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship in Ireland acting in Irish productions and working on new plays of his own.

In attendance at the first national production of an O'Brien play were members of the Middlebury alumni community in Washington, D.C., an impressive contingent from the College (attending in both official and unofficial roles), and a large number of the general public. Comments in the audience afterward ranged from the confused to the congratulatory, though the reaction was unanimous to a scene in which an airline stewardess puts her hand inside a bag of a passenger's vomit.

O'Brien has made a promising beginning with a play which appeals to the intellectual and the emotional, combining history and conjecture in a story which entrances and intrigues. We will definitely hear more from O'Brien soon, and we congratulate him on his success to date.

The ICC/ACTF program is a national program for all dramatic arts, sponsored by academic institutions, businesses, and theater organizations nationwide. Awards are given for excellence in areas too numerous to name, and the prestige of such awards is great in the world of theater. Middlebury College has historically had good luck participating in KC/ACTT and its regional Irene Ryan awards; the theater department here is known for its strength and quality of acting, performance, and production.