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Contact: Christopher Markle, NIU School of Theatre and Dance
July 19, 2007
DeKalb — Ten frightened men rush into an empty room, slam the door behind them and begin to wonder.
What, exactly, just happened to their Master? Is he really dead? And why can’t they remember? If they can cobble together what they know, and report each detail accurately, will the ending – the answers – come to them?
“Disciples,” a play opening Aug. 3 at the Elgin Art Showcase, tells of this struggle to recall, examine and understand a situation of trauma – and to cope with an uncomfortable and unfamiliar silence left by the loss of a leader.
It’s only the second production of the English translation of Hungarian playwright Andras Visky’s work, director Christopher Markle says, and the first professional staging.
Markle describes the play as a black comedy with an Eastern European sense of humor and fatalism.
“It’s always important for Andras that the question is: Where is God? Or, I would say, where is the power of ultimate goodness in the world? In moments of ultimate stress, we all say, ‘Are you out there?’ Even people who don’t believe in God will dig deep inside themselves,” Markle says. “Andras wonders what happens when there is silence.”
SummerNITE, the resident professional equity company operated by the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University, is producing the play. Markle is the artistic director of SummerNITE and head of the performance faculty at NIU.
Performances are scheduled from Friday, Aug. 3, through Sunday Aug. 5, and from Friday, Aug. 10, through Sunday, Aug. 12. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.
The Elgin Art Showcase is located on the eighth floor of the professional building at 164 Division Street. Call (815) 753-8258 or visit http://www.niu.edu/summernite/ for tickets or more information.
SummerNITE’s existence in Elgin is part of the city’s cultural Renaissance of late and an integral component of a focus on the western suburbs by the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Dean Harold Kafer became aware of the renovated arts space and initiated talks with the building’s owners, Markle says.
“We’re getting in on the ground floor. We can build a presence in that community,” Markle says. “They’re very excited we’re there.”
Because the small theater seats about 100, Markle says, audiences will feel as though they’re in the panicked room with the men.
Meanwhile, the play will escort them on a journey of philosophy as it draws its theme from the passion story of the Bible and colors it with details from the oppression of the Eastern Europeans at the hands, and in the gulags, of the Soviet Union.
And although the characters have names such as Peter, Thomas, James and John, and the play is set on Holy Saturday, it’s important to note that the word “the” is not in the title.
“Andras told me the play is about loss of memory after trauma. The challenge of the play is the complexity of the characters and what it is to see people in this state of stress,” Markle says.
“The high stakes are always present under everything, and that’s a very complex state for an actor to communicate,” he adds. “As Americans, it’s hard for us to understand what it’s like to be under that constant threat. We’re comfortable. We’re safe. We don’t feel the police are going to come out and beat us up. And, as Americans, we always feel history is going to turn out on our side.”
For the characters, he says, it’s not so easy.
Promises their master had made about this time are unfulfilled. There has been neither resurrection nor salvation. The skies have not opened.
“We can relate because we read the Constitution, and we see we’re entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Markle says. “We read it, and we say, ‘OK, where’s the happiness? I was promised happiness.’ ”
Peter, the group’s presumed rock, is unaware of his position and surprised to hear such declarations from his mates. Thomas, the one earlier consumed by doubt, is a latecomer to the room who brings confirmation of the Master’s fate.
They discover that they are not heroes but merely men with flaws who are suddenly without a leader and unaccustomed to waiting for answers.
Even more troubling is that they can no longer hear the voice of God nor can they seem to trust one another. Are informers among them? Does a private conversation among two or more signal conspiracy? Is their secretive laughter a sign of ostracism?
As the play unfolds, the men reclaim their identities as the “chosen group” and begin to reach out to rebuild shattered confidence.
Finally, they summon up their Master’s words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
That action ties the characters to the audience members, Markle says. For example, modern politicians claim to “act in the spirit of Ronald Reagan” or to “do what FDR would want us to do.”
“We still do this. We do it all the time in politics,” he says. “This helps us relate to these men. We, too, want to take up the mantle and the legacy of the absent Master, whoever that may be.”
Another universal message is clear. “After a catastrophe, you still have to walk out the door,” he says. “You can’t run away.”
The school will remount “Disciples” on the NIU campus this fall as the opening production of the School of Theatre and Dance’s 2007-08 season. Student actors who now serve as understudies for the Elgin company will assume the lead roles.
Patricia Skarbinski, a recent MFA graduate from NIU who is serving as Markle’s assistant director in Elgin, will direct the play on campus.
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