A group of men in black uniforms lay on stage. Two others command the scene. A lone woman stands, tears in her eyes, sorrow on her brow. It’s all part of the telling of an Ancient Greek myth filled with violence, rape and revenge – heavy subject matter that lives on in society today.
For their first production of the season, the Department of Drama at the University of Calgary is taking on The Love of the Nightingale – a story that looks at violence against women and the silencing that takes place – something all too close to director Alyssa Bradac’s heart.
“It’s a huge labour of love for me,” she explained. “My best friend was the victim of sex abuse and it’s a very personal play, a very personal project for me.”
EMOTIONS RUN DEEP: Philomele, played by Shannon Murphy, and Tereus, played by Jonathan Molinski (top), are at the heart of The Love of the Nightingale, a tragic tale of violence, rape and revenge based on the Ancient Greek myth. The play runs at the University of Calgary’s University Theatre from October 23 to November 3 and is the first production of the season for the Department of Drama.
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image
Opening October 23 at the UofC’s University Theatre, The Love of the Nightingale was written by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker in 1989 and adapts the legend of the rape of Philomela by her brother-in-law Tereus.
“It spoke to me as a reflection of who we are as the human species. As ancient as the story is, it’s modern,” said Alyssa. “There’s this systematic violence we take for granted. [The story] makes us look at who we are through a totally different scope.”
Less than half of rapes that occur are reported and there’s a silencing that happens, she explained. In Nightingale, Philomele is physically silenced with the removal of her tongue but there’s a social silence as well that keeps occurring.
“The play looks at violence towards women and the silencing of women… and also at what can be done to provide [a] voice for the oppressed, promote equality and to provide protection,” said Clem Martini, head of the Department of Drama, in a press release.
“Sometimes people see drama solely for its entertainment value, but I’ve never thought of it as only having that application. I think it has the power to do many things simultaneously. It has the power to entertain, but also to educate, uplift and illuminate.”
In addition to voicing the story through the production, the University will feature a special performance of the play as part of October 26′s Performing Change Gala with all proceeds supporting the United Way of Calgary and Area.
“These events in the Wertenbaker play provoke thought, offer insight and they may help people understand some of the issues that the United Way supports in a whole new way,” continued Clem.
For the cast, the story’s intensity offers an opportunity but also a challenge.
Kinesiology student Shannon Murphy plays Philomele, a character she respects and emphasizes with.
“She speaks directly to the audience,” she explained. “I feel it’s so real.”
The play gives the victim a voice, something Shannon feels is so important, but is still lacking in modern society. She researched rape culture as part of the role and learned that one in three women go through some sort of sexual abuse during their life, a staggering statistic that brought reality to the part.
After Philomela loses her tongue, Shannon said she physically tucks her own tongue back to have a sense of the visceral loss. She learned to emote through noises, physicality and through a puppet that helps the character communicate with both those on stage and the audience.
Drama major Brett Tromburg plays the Captain, the man who Philomele loves and sees what is happening but cannot stop it and ultimately dies for it.
“[The play] deals with a lot of subject matter that remains in today’s world,” he said. “My character is forced to be around it but has no control. The hardest part is to be around [the violence] without having any real power.”
Jonathan Molinski, also a drama major, plays Tereus but doesn’t see him as a villain, just an impulsive man who doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong.
“The character is not a villain in my eyes [but] he may have not made the right choices,” he said.
“It’s very different to try to be this man who makes these impulsive choices. He’s very different than what I’ve played before and it’s very different to be dealing with the darkness of the character.”
The Love of the Nightingale runs October 23 to November 3 (except October 29 and 30) with the Performing Change Gala on October 26. For more information visit the Performing Arts website.