You may think 1911 high-society Vienna has nothing to do with the issues in your life.
But the University of New Brunswick’s Drama 2170 class hopes to prove otherwise with their production of Undiscovered Country, opening March 28 at Memorial Hall.
“On sort of a less literal level the play is about human behaviour and about how we do irrational things; how we seem to be happy and we seem to have everything going for us, but then we do things that destroy our own lives,” said Len Falkenstein, professor of the class and director of drama at UNB. “We make irrational decisions, especially when it comes to things of the heart. We’re never content with what’s going on and that’s often our downfall.”
Das Weite Land was written by Austrian dramatist Arthur Schnitzler. In 1979, British playwright Tom Stoppard – who co-wrote the Academy Award-winning script for Shakespeare in Love – translated and staged the show.
The play follows Friedrich Hofreiter, a wealthy manufacturer of incandescent light bulbs. Friedrich is often unfaithful to his wife, Genia, and Falkenstein said things come to a head when she decides to reciprocate.
As much as this play takes place 100 years ago and half a world removed from ours, there’s nothing distant about it, said Falkenstein.
“It’s about affairs of the heart. It’s about deceit and betrayal and game-playing and passion. Take any circle of friends anywhere at any time and you will see the same things taking place. Where passions get inflamed and things break down, relationships break down, chaos ensues. As much as we try to have a settled life, an ordered life, we’re our own worst enemies.
“I’ve had actors as we’re in rehearsals say, ‘You know? This is just like my friend. This is just what’s going on with her,’” Falkenstein said with a laugh.
Emily Burton, a student in the class, plays Genia. She said she’s done a lot of acting before, but has never taken as much away from a show as she has with Undiscovered Country.
“I’ve learned so much about script analysis. We’ve done so much work on what’s underneath the words in order to help us portray the emotions better,” she said.
“I think through learning about script analysis, it’s going to make us better play-watchers,” said fellow student Kelsey Hines, who plays Erna Wahl. “We’ll pay more attention to the subtleties of it.”
“It’s a really deep play,” Andreas Marquis chimed in. “It’s weird, you get so much pleasure analyzing these things.”
Marquis, who plays Dr. Franz Mauer, said the class is such a joy to go to that he no longer considers it schoolwork.
“We have exams and we need to pass in assignments, but you go to class and it’s like, ‘Oh look, all of my friends just hanging out in [Memorial] Hall.’”
“It’s a circus,” Burton said with a laugh.
Falkenstein said enrolment of the class was large this year with 25 students. The course focuses on learning all aspects of theatre production, from acting to backstage disciplines. The class puts on one play each semester and is responsible for costumes, set construction and publicity, among other things.
Another interesting addition to the play, said Falkenstein, is that the final performance will be interpreted for the hearing impaired.
“It’s going to be a neat thing – we’ve never had that happen with one of our shows before,” he said.
St. Thomas University English professor Russ Hunt teaches a course called The Page and the Stage, which encourages students to see plays in the city and talk about their experiences. In order to accommodate a student in the class with hearing impairment, Undiscovered Country will be performed on March 31 by interpreters concurrently with the show.
“I was talking to the interpreters the other day and they kind of “theatricalize” the play and break the characters down between the three of them, and they take on the roles,” Falkenstein said. “It will be kind of interesting to watch just that: two versions of the play going on at once.”
Undiscovered Country will be performed at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28 until Saturday, March 31 at Memorial Hall on the UNB campus. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 for adults and will be available at the door.