Calvin Theater Company embraces serious, dramatic work for 2018-2019 season

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The Calvin Theater Company (CTC) is beginning work on its 2018-2019 season, based around the theme of “create, unite, renew,” which seeks to address and explore issues of gender, race, and reconciliation.

This fall’s production is a lesser-known play entitled “Precious Bane,” written by Meryl Friedman and adapted from the novel by Mary Webb.

The play is set in the English county of Shropshire in the 19th century, and follows a young woman named Prue Sarn, who suffers from a “hare-lip,” or cleft-palate. This often makes her a target of prejudice in her superstitious community, who accuse her of being a witch. When Prue’s brother Gideon takes over the family farm, dramatic events ensue from his pursuit of greed, and she works for him in a form of indentured servitude. Prue’s world is further turned upside-down when a traveling weaver, Kester Woodseves, comes to town and the two fall in love, an event which has powerful unforeseen consequences.

This fall’s production is one marked with changes and newcomers. While most CTC productions are directed by Calvin theater professor Debra “Doc” Freeberg, this fall her colleague Natalie Carmolli will be taking the helm. Carmolli has directed 14 plays over her career. This will be her 15th, and also one of her first working with a college-aged cast.

In addition to working with a new demographic, Carmolli is also passionate about the way this production will speak to this year’s CTC theme. “In today’s society people are misunderstood, marginalized and even feared for race and gender differences. Much like with Prue’s story, the fear of someone who is different can lead to tragic consequences. Reconciliation, however, can occur when even one person is brave enough see through the differences, and even champion them.”

The lead role of Prue is going to be played by newcomer Hannah Koning, a junior who had previously been involved with CTC in the costuming department, helping actors change in and out of costumes during shows. Although she had acted occasionally in high school, landing the lead role in this production came as a surprise to her. Her decision to try out was based on a number of factors.

“This semester I seemed to have the time for it… I prefer dramas over comedies and musicals, and this play is more dramatic and serious in nature.”

Koning noted that a major difference between high school theater and college theater is that college plays begin to focus on heavier material that often has clear themes and messages intended to make the audience think.

Veteran CTC actor Josh Boers, who plays Prue’s lover Kester Woodseves, added that this particular production is notably more dramatic than those in years past. Whereas many of CTC’s last few productions have been more light-hearted in nature, such as “Sense and Sensibility” and “Arabian Nights,” Boers anticipates that this production is going to be even darker than the company’s last drama, “Nicholas Nickleby.”

Koning emphasized that in addition to a change in tone, audience members can look forward to experiencing a period piece that uniquely incorporates aspects of a set and production design that errs toward expressionism rather than realism.

Carmolli added that while the beautiful set design will be one aspect of this production that the audience can look forward to, it is the beauty at the heart of the story that will move audience members.

There’s a great deal of beauty in this story,” Carmolli said.  “It is spoken in a way that is very poetic and laced together with music that is sung and hauntingly played on cello. Against this backdrop, audience members will experience the cruel judgement that comes from fear and ignorance, and the redemptive power of open-mindedness, trust and love.”