Is it okay to want nice things? Is it acceptable to be stereotypical? Do people really mean what they say? These are just a few of the questions explored in David Ives’ “Ancient History,” directed by Will Sartorius ’16. Performed in the Benjamin Mayes Center, this two-person play reminded its viewers of the inherent flaws in human nature and the ways that people do or do not overcome them.
When the house lights dimmed and the set went to black, the anticipation level in the audience was immediately palpable. When the lights came up we meet the couple around whom the play revolves, Jack and Ruth, played by Jonah Greenawalt ’16 and Natalie Silver ’16 respectively. There is nothing outwardly remarkable about these two. They are ordinary people in their mid-thirties.
As the play progressed, however, the audience was given access to the subconscious thoughts of both Ruth and Jack. You may ask, how is this possible? How is it possible to show a person’s thoughts to the audience during a live performance? With the ring of a telephone and a spotlight, Sartorius created an environment that allowed the audience to step inside the characters’ minds in order to see what they were thinking but not outwardly voicing.
As the play goes on, Ruth’s Jewish roots and Jack’s Catholic ones start to cross more and more. Finally, Ruth is able to vocalize that she craves a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and 2.1 children while Jack is still completely content being a quasi-socialist who lives on six thousand dollars a year.
Let us not forget that the entire play happens in the span of one night, just seventy minutes for the audience. In those seventy minutes, however, the audience becomes attached to the characters in front of them.
The chemistry between the two characters, so carefully cultivated by Greenawalt and Silver, makes it all the more heartbreaking when the couple makes their inevitable split. Greenawalt said, “The most gratifying part of the project has been building the chemistry between Nat and I. Playing a couple that’s been in a long-term relationship requires a deep familiarity that I think we’ve really cultivated over the past few months of rehearsal.” The empathy that these two actors are able to extract from the audience is a direct correlation to their stellar acting.
Greenawalt noted that, while playing his character, “There’s usually room for spontaneity. The script paints him as an off-the-cuff, overly performative guy, so I’ve never felt like I have to hold back.” This breathing room Ives left for the actor in the script allowed for a more fluid performance and believable portrayal of the character.
It is also important to recognize all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. There are many steps to executing a play such as this, including directing. Sartorius said that the best part of directing for him is “the sense of creative collaboration. It’s amazing what can happen when you combine a handful of very talented, motivated people.” Successful collaboration behind the scenes translates to a stronger performance by the actors on stage. This production certainly reflected this.
Sartorius was originally thinking that he wanted to do a farcical play but he said, “After reading numerous farces, I determined that a farce lacked the depth and emotional pulls that I really wanted from a play.” With the help of his playwriting professor, Cory Hinkle, and his friend Sam Myers ’16, Sartorius found this play. He admitted, “Once I read ‘Ancient History,’ I was hooked. It was just as hysterical as it was gut wrenching, the exact themes I was looking for.”
As any theatergoer can tell you, the play does not happen without the Stage Manager. This was senior Fiona Frick’s first time stage-managing at Bates. She notes, “I’ve always wanted to try my hand in the theater department and ‘Ancient History’ truly has been such a rewarding experience.”
Using the Benjamin Mays Center as a venue was a different experience for everyone involved. Frick said, “It’s an awesome space that could definitely be used more for future productions. The space lends itself very well to the play, perhaps even more so than Shaeffer or Gannet.” The Mays Center provided a homey feel that was vital to this performance.
I left this production thinking. I thought about both my own future and what goes unsaid. “Ancient History” was a production that stuck with the viewer long after the sound of the last clap.