WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/13/2018) Themes of youth, love and enlightenment were on display in Eastern Connecticut State University's latest theatrical production, "Awakenings: 'Youth' by Thornton Wilder and 'Chitra' by Rabindranath Tagore." From April 5-8, the two one-act plays - by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from the East (Wilder) and West (Tagore) - transformed Eastern's DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre into a tropical island and then into a lush Hindu dreamscape.
Both plays were directed by graduating theatre students Matt Bessette of Lebanon ("Youth") and Emily John of Woodstock ("Chitra").
"The play I chose to direct for my theatre capstone project was a satirical allegory for youth culture of the 1960s; therein, its characters take the decade's resentment of old age to the extreme," said Bessette, director of "Youth." "What results is a dramatic comedy on a tropical island with equal parts over-the-top humor and thought-provoking drama."
The story unfolds when a shipwrecked middle-aged man stumbles upon the shores of an island inhabited only by young people. The islanders are repulsed by his gray hair and wrinkly skin, and demonize him for coming from a world with values of which they disapprove. The naivety of the islanders is clear, however, as the worldly man exhibits compassion and wisdom that changes the fate of some of the youth.
"Youth" is part three of "The Ages of Man," Wilder's unfinished series of plays that symbolize infancy, childhood, youth and middle age. According to Bessette, "Of the completed four parts of 'Ages,' the first two - 'Infancy' and 'Childhood' - were published during his lifetime and widely produced. The third and fourth, however, were made public only after his death."
Bessette decided to direct "Youth" because it's not very well known. "… therefore, I would get the chance to prove myself and, to a certain extent, set a precedent for any future productions. Furthermore, its thematic presence is so strong and yet it's so cleverly written that it comes across as nothing more than a meaningless farce to the unobservant viewer. Because it effortlessly blends humor and horror, I interpret it as a drama deliberately masquerading as a comedy to hide its more serious intentions from the unworthy eye."
After a brief intermission, theatregoers returned to a dimly lit, green-tinged set for "Chitra." The tale centers upon Chitrangada, a princess torn between the demands of being a warrior and the desires of embracing her femininity. With the help of the gods of love and youth, Chitra is transformed into an image of beauty that attracts the attention of the great warrior Arjuna. But she is not true to herself or Arjuna, living a double life, until the powers of love and honesty unite them.
"When I first read this play I felt very much connected to Chitra," said director Emily John. "As a young woman on the brink of new beginnings, about to start on the next stage in her journey, I felt a kinship with the warrior princess. Just as Chitra questions how much she knows of life and love, I also have big questions about where my own path is leading me."
The playwright Rabindranath Tagore was born in India in 1861. "It has been said that he was very much ahead of his time," said John. "Coming from a time when women were seen as less than equal, the warrior princess is one brilliant mind's call to the masses for a change for which we still fight, even now.
"The message does not stop with Chitra, however. Just as intriguing and important a character is Arjuna. As Chitra is an example to women to be true to themselves and to embrace their strength as much as their grace, Arjuna is a call to men to allow their gentler, loving nature to come forward without fear or embarrassment. Tagore shows Chitra and Arjuna to us not as the stereotypical prince and princess who simply find their happily-ever-after. Rather, he lets us see them as people."
"Awakenings: 'Youth' and 'Chitra'" involved a cast and crew of more than 50 Eastern students, staff and faculty who created elaborate sets, costumes, projections, sound effects and dance choreographies.
Written by Michael Rouleau
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 26 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 40 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 25th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2018 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded 'Green Campus' status by the Princeton Review eight years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.
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