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Iza Scott and Michael Saar rehearse a scene from ‘“A Kind of Alaska,” Monday in the Studio Theatre.

The word of the day is “Interesting.”

That is the word that recurs as director and actors talk about Lamar University department of theatre & dance’s upcoming double bill of Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter” and “”A Kind of Alaska,” which opens Feb. 9 in the Studio Theatre.

Director Joel Grothe said the plays challenge the audience’s expectations.

“They’re not straight forward — they may be confusing to an audience at times,” he said. “Pinter’s plays, in America, haven’t done real well commercially, because the audience’s experience can be uncomfortable in a sort of confusing way. I don’t think that’s the case here.

“The audience here is not dumb. The audience is never dumb. Actually, wherever you go, the audience is smart. ‘The audience doesn’t get it,’ that’s always a red flag to me. What that means isn’t that the audience doesn’t get it, it’s that you’re not telling them something — you’re not communicating the message of the play. This is not the sort of play that someone who grew up in this area is used to seeing. It might be a little different, but I think they’ll figure it out.”

“A Kind of Alaska” is based on Oliver Sachs “Awakenings,” which was made into a movie in the 1990s with Robin Williams and Robert De Nero. It is the only play Pinter write based off another source. “The Dumb Waiter” is one of Pinter’s more famous plays.

“I feel like ‘the Dumb Waiter’ is a very accessible play,” Grothe said. “I’d seen it before and I just thought it can really grab the audience. It just has a very unique nature to it. ‘A Kind of Alaska’ is also an interesting pay. I think it’s almost a perfect play and it doesn’t get staged very often.”

Sydney Haygood rehearses a scene from “The Dumb Waiter,” Monday in the Studio Theatre. LU photo by Trevier Gonzalez

Sydney Haygood rehearses a scene from “The Dumb Waiter,” Monday in the Studio Theatre. LU photo by Trevier Gonzalez

Pinter is one of the 20th century’s most awarded playwrights and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

Grothe said the plays were selected to challenge both the audience and the actors.

“You don’t want to do that with every show you pick, but it’s good to challenge our students, and the students who are audience members and other members of the community,” he said. “We tend to pick at least one play a year that nobody else around here is going to do. This is that play this year.”

“A kind of Alaska” is about a woman who is being treated for encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, and how she and her sister, and her doctor who’s married to her sister, deal with the situation. “The Dumb Waiter” is about two hitmen who are waiting to get instructions for a job. One is a bit more mature and one a bit more naïve, and something’s gone wrong on a previous job they were on which hangs over their conversation. Pinter was strongly influenced by Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” and the play echoes that play.

Sophomore Madelynn Hightower plays Pauline in “A Kind of Alaska.” She said the play is different from anything she has done before.

“The audience is going to be intrigued, they really have to pay attention to know what’s going on,” she said. “If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to be confused. Pay attention to small details, things that we say, because the way Pinter wrote the play, all the words are there and the pauses, and they add to the effect of the tone of the play.

“You’re going to be left with a lot of questions and you’re going to have to use your imagination for a lot of it — just kind of go with it. There’s a lot of things that they say where there’s not really an end to it.”

Michael Saar, faculty librarian in Gray Library, plays the doctor in “A Kind of Alaska.”

“I think it’s very interesting as well as entertaining,” he said. “It’s something that speaks to the power of theater, where it’s more powerful to see this play rather than read it from a page. The play raises questions more than a message or a moral, and the questions focus on the realities we construct for ourselves, and the relationship between memory and the past. These are the types of shows that get an audience thinking and talking about it, and will stick with you days after the fact — something to, hopefully, get you thinking about things that were brought up even if you can’t see it when you’re watching.”

Sophomore Austin Jones, who plays Gus in “The Dumb Waiter,” said the play has an open beginning and an open ending, adding, “it almost has an open middle.” Jones said the one-act format speeds up the action.

“Because it’s a shorter play, there’s probably more in that 40 minutes of the play than in 40 minutes of a play that’s twice as long,” he said.

Austin Jones rehearses a scene from “The Dumb Waiter,” Monday in the Studio Theatre. LU photo by Trevier Gonzalez

Austin Jones rehearses a scene from “The Dumb Waiter,” Monday in the Studio Theatre. LU photo by Trevier Gonzalez

Grothe said the students are doing great work, especially as they are working with a different kind of material.

“Pinter has a very precise structure for not only what’s said, but also what isn’t said,” he said. “Pinter is very famous for the pauses and silences and where he writes those in his script, and they’ve been figuring that out. He’s very economical with his words — he doesn’t waste any language.

“It’s a challenge working a lot about what’s unsaid. That really is acting. A lot of people can go on stage and talk, but it’s about what you’re doing when you’re not talking that is a huge part of acting.”

The performances are 7:30 p.m., Feb. 9, 10 and 11, with a matinee at 2 p.m., Feb. 12. Tickets are $7 for Lamar students, $10 for faculty, staff, senior citizens and students with ID, and $15 for general admission.

For information, call 880-2250.

Rachel Curtis

UP contributor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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