Themes of the 2013 Season

Love and Death: Driving Forces of Drama. Love and death are the fundamental themes of drama’s two classical forms: comedy and tragedy. Often the two are intertwined. In both Romeo and Juliet and Othello, an intense love that crosses boundaries results in the deaths of the protagonists. Claudio in Measure for Measure faces a sentence of death for sleeping with his betrothed before marriage, while Antonio in The Merchant of Venice is prepared to suffer death for the sake of his beloved friend Bassanio. In Judith Thompson’s The Thrill, activists on either side of the euthanasia debate fall passionately in love. Even Noël Coward’s classic comedy Blithe Spirit is a light-hearted tale of love after death.

Inside/Out: Stories of Cultural Belonging. Communities are defined both by whom they include and by whom they exclude. Communities of various kinds, the conflicts that occur between and within them, and their often problematic relationships with outsiders in their midst feature in several of the season’s plays. Examples include the feuding families of Romeo and Juliet; the Jewish community of Fiddler on the Roof, threatened both by change from within and by oppression from outside; and the plight of such outsiders as Shylock (who lives in a community that despises him) and Othello – who, despite being valued by the community, is made vulnerable by his own sense of “difference.”

Church, State and the Individual Conscience. Church and state are among our most potent expressions of collective identity. But what of those individuals who, like Shylock, do not subscribe to a society’s prevailing faith, or to whom its values are alien? And what if our core institutions become tyrannical or corrupt? When does individual conscience trump the collective will? In Measure for Measure, draconian morality laws and a hypocritical administrator open the door to exploitation and abuse. In Mary Stuart, religion becomes a tool in the hands of cynical politicians as human lives are sacrificed in the supposed interests of the state. And tensions between church and state drive the plot of The Three Musketeers, as comrades in arms combat the scheming Cardinal Richelieu – the power behind the throne of France.

Disability, Disillusion and Self-Discovery. Sometimes losing a faculty – or a faith – may open the door to unexpected revelation. In Tommy, a boy suffers the traumatic loss of sight, hearing and speech, then becomes a media sensation. But it is when those who have looked to him as a spiritual leader become disenchanted that he finds his true self. In The Thrill, a right-to-die activist and a wheelchair-bound crusader for the rights of the disabled fall in love – and discover unsuspected truths about themselves. And in Waiting for Godot, the near-paralysis of Beckett’s two tramps – resolving to abandon their enigmatic rendezvous yet strangely unable to leave the appointed spot – is a poignant emblem of the human need to seek meaning and purpose in even the most spiritually barren of circumstances.

Repression and Rebellion. The two frequently go hand in hand, both in societies and within the individual psyche. A violent history of political and religious turbulence shaped the police state that was Elizabethan England and led Elizabeth to execute her perceived rival for the crown, as dramatized in Schiller’s Mary Stuart. Young love rebels against the strictures of tradition in Fiddler on the Roof and against entrenched clan hatreds in Romeo and Juliet. Meanwhile, in Measure for Measure, the state attempts not only to crack down on public licentiousness but to legislate private morality – and the interim ruler’s repressive approach to public policy speaks volumes about his private inability to control his own rebellious flesh.

Faith and Humanity. Faith – in the existence of a higher power, in the truth of ideas and principles or in the authority of leaders and institutions – can sustain people through their darkest hours. It can also blind them to reality, drive divisions between them and be perverted to justify atrocity. Many of this season’s plays weigh the value of faith against that of simple humanity. The “faith” of the Christian community in The Merchant of Venice seems uncomfortably bound up with racism and intolerance, while the faith of Isabella in Measure for Measure is of an uncompromising kind that many find unsettling. Faith and political ideology entwine in Mary Stuart, with fatal results. The community of Fiddler on the Roof is united by its faith; that same faith makes it a target for hostility from outside. And Waiting for Godot raises the disquieting possibility of a universe in which faith is merely a futile exercise in empty hope.
 

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