Senior Theses examine representational issues in art

April 27, 2018

The performances of the shows created by Brandeis’ graduating theater majors came to a close with the end of the Festival of the Arts, but their limited run managed to raise deep questions about how we feature minorities in art.

The most interesting piece came from Keturah Walker ’18, whose “From Pearls to Hoops” piece recounted her experience as a black woman in the primarily white Brandeis theater department. A dramatized version of her life, the play uses Walker’s story as a vehicle to talk about her successes in addition to the challenges black artists face in traditionally white environments.

The show was specifically framed around a specific interaction wherein someone talking to Walker let slip that she assumed Walker didn’t know her father. Freezing in that moment, the show traveled through all of Walker’s prior experiences that determined her reaction to this comment.

Dipping in and out of realism, “From Pearls” mixed Walker’s real-life experiences with her thoughts, effectively chronicling her growth from timid and unsure to a strong self-advocate.

These inner thoughts are presented in interludes between literal scenes from the story, abandoning these literal scenes’ dialogue for dance, poetry and music. This semi-surrealist style lent itself to the emotionally-driven purpose of these scenes, easily communicating Walker’s initial worries about success through panicked cries and, later, her self-assurance through a powerful poem about self-care. The more literal scenes drove home the difficulties racism, explicit or implicit, presents for minorities and how the lack of early opportunity can make it difficult to succeed.

Many actors involved in the show had little prior theatrical experience, but under Walker and Shaquan McDowell’s ’18 direction, they created compelling performances. Their lack of experience slanted them toward a more exaggerated, comedic style but this matched the show’s lighthearted spirit. A notable scene was Walker’s “inner bad bitches,” both of whom had perfect sass. While this show took on complex problems (well), the lightness which ran through the show made it a pleasure to watch and even more satisfying when Walker got up to tell off the woman who assumed she did not know her father.

Sara Kenney’s ’18 production, “The Most Excellent and Lamentably PC But Incompleat Tragedy of Shakespeare’s Womyn Without a Single Reference to Lady Macbeth, Or What You Will” was an intriguing reconstruction of Shakespeare’s women. As an anthology of Shakespeare’s most powerful scenes involving women, the show removed scenes from the original show and juxtaposed them with other portraits of the Bard’s women, thereby shifting the emphasis of each scene onto the specific characters and the way they represent their gender. The show managed to provoke thought about women, power and representation without a single explicit lecture.

The scenes themselves, made up of Shakespeare’s notoriously difficult language, were skillfully performed by Kenney and Rachel Greene ’20, under the direction of Andrew Child ’18. Kenney delivered powerful monologues, switching fluidly between characters and moods while avoiding getting bogged down by the Bard’s language. Greene served as an impressive second-woman, matching Kenney’s clarity and elevating comedic scenes with a wonderfully ridiculous energy. They were aided by quick-change costumes and projection which solidly established the scene and larger show moods, respectively. With a remarkable grasp of the material, the show was a striking introduction to Shakespeare or an intriguing exploration of gender for those already familiar with him.

Tres Fimmano ’18 also examined representation in art, with his piece “Queering the Cape: Hidden Themes in American Comic Books,” which featured four comic nerds arguing about themes of sexuality in the world of comics. The show alternated between the cute moments of close friends and impassioned speeches about which superheroes were gay icons or a step backwards in the struggle for the right kind of representation of queer characters. However, not everyone in the show agreed on what the right kind of representation would be.

The arguments the characters had on this topic were weighed down slightly by the need to explain the comic-world context of each topic, but still presented fascinating questions about the way comic creators treat queer characters. Is it necessary to have bisexual characters label themselves as such? How closely can the struggle of mutants (of X-Men fame) be matched to the gay rights movement? Can Superman be a gay icon despite (usually) being totally straight? Alongside these arguments the actors displayed a series of adorable moments, presenting the carefree happiness that only spending time with friends can bring.

The unification between these two elements, however, suffered slightly; with slightly awkward transitions in and out of monologues and characters who never truly shared their history or personalities to explain why they felt this way about these comics.

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