Season Starts with Sweet Success

Putting on the first show of the 2003-2004 theate4 season is a daunting challenge that few would face successfully. However, first time director Matt Brennan ’05 showed that it can be done in last Sunday’s Theatre Classroom performance of This Property is Condemned. After acting in several Theatre Classrooms in the last few years and proving his skill as an actor, Brennan revealed that he is also a gifted director. Now with one show already under his belt, he has gained the experience to direct larger productions. The success of the performance was built upon a strong script by Tennessee Williams. The script, which director Sydney Pollack (“The Firm,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) adapted in his motion picture of the play in 1966, is deeply moving and written with eloquence. Brennan chose this script because he thought its good message and dark tone would be appealing to students. He was right. The scene Brennan chose was between Willie (Iemanja Brown ’04) and Tom (Warner Robinson ’04) in the beginning of the play. In the scene, Willie meets Tom while walking along the railroad tracks. She relates the story of her late sister Alva’s life to him in great detail, constantly remarking on Alva’s beauty as “the main attraction.” Brown, just back from a school year abroad in France, perfectly conveys both Willie’s innocence and her inner struggle to survive despite all the tragedy in her life. Willie’s character holds the spotlight throughout the scene and the rest of the play as she recounts the details of Alva’s life. Brown’s employment of a Southern accent and snippets of song while talking about traumatic occasions in her life provided overwhelming dramatic irony that tugged at the heartstrings of the audience. Robinson, who started acting only last year while playing Dionysus in the Fall Theatre 520 performance of Speak the Rain Words, provided strong support throughout the scene. Robinson’s straightforward and matter-of-fact portrayal of Tom’s character complemented Willie’s free-spirited attitude. One of Brennan’s great directorial choices for the performance was simplicity. The plain set and lack of props focused the audience’s attention on the acting and the script, a necessity for a scene of this theme. The lighting was just as simple and remained constant throughout the show. The lights changed only once throughout the entire show, and consequently, when they did, they created an intensely dramatic effect. Everything in the production was included solely out of necessity, keeping the performance tight and maintaining the audience’s attention. The outbursts of song, of which there were many, really helped to liven the up the scene, and kept with Willie’s childlike character. Brown’s natural and sincere-sounding voice was just what the performance needed. Brennan set up only one row of chairs, leaving the rest of the audience to sit on the floor. When asked why he made this seemingly strange decision, he said that since much of the action takes place on the floor, he worried that the people in the back wouldn’t be able to see. This is an example of surprisingly good foresight for a first time director and the decision worked on more levels than perhaps he had planned, giving the performance a homey feeling. A first-time director put on an excellent performance well within the usual parameters of this type of performance. Taking a minimalist approach to the technical aspects, he did not overstep his abilities in the classroom space, and the length of the scene was very well-suited to a classroom style performance. Brennan’s first attempt at directing was certainly a success, leaving the audience wanting more and looking forward to Brennan’s next show.