The spirit of Ancient Greece was brought to the Carl J. Shapiro Theater last night as the Brandeis Ensemble Theater premiered their latest play, “The Love of the Nightingale.” Originally written in 1989 by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, “The Love of the Nightingale” is an adaptation of the classic Greek myth of the rape of Philomele by her brother-in-law and King of Thrace, Tereus. As the story goes, after being assaulted by Tereus and having her tongue cut out, Philomele seeks revenge in the form of killing his son, the next in line for the throne. In order to save Philomele and her sister, Procne, from Tereus’ rage, the gods turn the three into a nightingale, swallow and hoopoe, respectively.
The play featured several themes closely intertwined with concepts of violence and abuse, both emotional and physical, including desire, power and war. However, even more crucial to the vision of director Ayelet Schrek ’17 and producer LaQuasia Cherry ’17 for the production was its portrayal of the themes surrounding the oppression experienced by the victims of violence, such as silence, questioning and waiting. Tying the play’s dichotomous motifs together was the concept of love—how love can be misconstrued, displaced and distorted, and how it can create unity only to later be the cause of broken bonds. This production surely entails a political undertone, but that was certainly Schrek’s intention. “Theater is always political,” she explains. “To put on a production is an investment, so which story we choose to tell is a political choice: What is the story that matters most, right here, right now?”
The cast of “The Love of the Nightingale” captures these themes and faithfully personifies them through both their technical endeavors, such as sword play, costume design, body movements, music selection and lighting effects and their stylistic modifications through speech, body language and character chemistry. The play’s three main characters Philomele (Keturah Walker ’17), Procne (Salena Deane ’19) and Tereus (Andrew Hyde ’17) created a powerful trio on stage, leading the audience through the tumultuous waters of betrayal, lust, doubt and rebellion. Even through the production’s most traumatic and harrowing scenes, these characters maintain a level of intensity that keeps the plot moving at a steady pace, keeping audience members on the edges of their seats until the final scene.
Though the cast and crew produced a theatrical performance worthy of every student’s time and attention, a few stumbles occurred here and there. The slow-motion sword-fighting in the opening act loss its graceful appearance for a few moments, and some of the choreography was out of sync. Though surely not enough to rival all of the high points of the production, some of the lines did come across as a bit stiff rather than natural and well-rehearsed. However, with tension running high on premiere night, a few slip-ups are more than forgivable. Overall, the hard-work and dedication of the cast and crew shone through and resulted in a unique production that is absolutely relevant to the issues concerning sexual violence and racial and gender inequality currently being discussed today.
The play also featured a number of newcomers from the class of 2019, including Cameron Braunstein, Emily Bisno, Gabriel Walker, Laura Goemann, Salena Jacqueline Deane and Sindy Sura.
“Working on this show was such an incredible experience because a huge part of our rehearsal process was discussions about the show, its content and what we hoped audience members would take away from it,” states Bisno. “We are a large, extremely diverse cast, so we got a wide variety of experiences and opinions which was really helpful. Also our director Ayelet’s facilitation of these conversations created a safe space where people in our cast were extremely honest with each other, allowing us to create the show!” An extremely talented group of individuals, these newcomers were able to blend seamlessly in with the returning cast.
This adaptation most definitely supported the historical aspect of the play, having as minimal anachronisms as possible, while at the same time remaining contemporarily applicable toward problems facing our culture today. The amount of effort that went into this production was evident from start to finish. The majority of the audience recognized this and the cast received a standing ovation this opening night. If you missed the play’s premiere, not to worry: BET will be holding shows in the SCC theater Friday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at SCC Box Office at price of $3 for students and $5 for general admission.