University of Denver’s Department of Theater debuted the devised work Exiled this month at JMAC Studios, running from October 13th-23rd. The term “devised work” means that the actors were not given a script, rather they created one by collaborating and building off a central theme with director, Laurence Curry.
The cast consisted of freshman Micah Conway, seniors Katie Walker, Wren Schuyler, Rosa Warner and Sam Paragment, with Mitchell Sheppard and Sam Pierce III stage managing.
“Exiled first began as a hunch, with regards to the idea of connection and disconnection since the beginning of time,” Curry writes in the show’s program.
Right off the bat, the physical location of the play enhanced this idea. Audience members sat close together in a small, intimate black box theater, yet the actors did not interact with the audience at all and it felt like there was a glass wall between the two.
The show consisted of the 5 actors all interacting in different scenes and spaces created through moving black boxes, writing on sheets of butcher paper, physical movements, discordant music and intense lighting.
In between scenes or vignettes of certain characters the actors paced around each other, saying things in a stream of consciousness all in unison. Then, often accompanied by a music change, they interacted with each other or narrated what was taking place and made meaning from the space. Each scene tackled themes of connection, disconnection, social media and/or displacement.
It was also a very physical show and everything was choreographed precisely and meaningfully. The actors interacted with black boxes on stage, scarves as costume changes and did interpretive dances. All of these movements felt like they were planned and rehearsed meticulously.
In fact, movement played a role in every scene, whether to enhance what was already happening or to create actual prop pieces. For example, in one scene an actor stood on a boat made from the black boxes and actors’ bodies themselves.
“I always describe this show as an experience. The show isn’t defined, none of your characters are defined. That’s one of the beautiful things about this show is you can take your own interpretation,” one audience member told the cast after the show, who had just seen the production for the sixth time.
The clearest, most obvious character being exiled was played by senior theater major, Wren Schuyler. She portrayed a refugee woman named Day Rahal who recounted being torn from her homeland and her loved ones. Her emotional and moving performance commented not only on the current Syrian refugee crisis, but also displaced Jews in WWII and any crises to come.
Another emotional performance consisted of an anchorman named Jim Nash played by freshman Micah Conway, who realized his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s/dementia, had forgot his name. He laments, “I’ve lost the only connection I have to this world,” as music swelled in the background.
During the talk-back after the play, the actors said they researched the details of their characters deeply and social media seemed to be something they all used to shape their characters or felt best embodied themes of connection/disconnection.
“The more connected we get, the more disconnected we get. You can choose what you see and what you don’t see. We have access to more than anybody has ever had before, yet we choose to insulate ourselves,” said senior Sam Paragment, whose manic character created certain technologies and social media that were being abused.
Overall, the show was fluid, provocative and tackled many contemporary ideas in an non-traditional way, backed by interesting lighting and music choices. While many audience members admitted to being confused about the subject matter during the performance, the cast seemed to like this idea — the show being an experience that the viewer had to create meaning from themselves.
“This isn’t a show that we expect you to come in and be like ‘That was enlightening I know exactly what just happened.’ We expect some confusion, there’s a lot of abstractness in the show. It changes every night. Every time I perform it, it feels different,” said Conway.