By Emily Zeller
The Danube – written by María Irene Fornés, directed by Hanna Yurfest ‘21, and stage managed by Callan Daniel ‘23 – opened Friday October 30th, kicking off its live, Hallo-weekend run of performances. The performances were staged on the loading dock and in the parking lot outside of the JKB building and they included some simple costumes, props, and lighting.
The play is set in Budapest, Hungary near the Danube River. Fornés wrote the play in response to the Nuclear war of 1956 in Hungary. We watch as the characters attempt to communicate with each other, almost as if they are in a textbook, struggling to truly understand each other and connect. Clusters of scenes were separated by a recording of a woman speaking lines in Hungarian and then translating them in English. The characters would often repeat the words the tape was reciting to show that they were learning and making an effort to communicate.
Coco McNeil ’21 played the role of Eve, a young woman from Budapest who falls in love with a young man from the United States named Paul, played by Spencer Evett ‘21. Paul arrives in Hungary and meets with Eve’s father, Mr. Sandor (played by Julian Schepis ‘22) for business. As the love story between Eve and Paul unfolds, they both begin to show signs of a grave illness. It is later revealed that the illness is due to pollution in the air. Eve and Paul are told by a doctor that they should not worry and that their symptoms are normal. It is clear to the audience though that there is something more serious at hand. Although this play is set around the time of WWII, it covers a lot of important topics that still resonate today: complacency with foreign relationships, interpersonal connections, distance, and illness.
Despite the restrictions and limitations that have come with this season of theater, Yurfest was able to truly bring this play into a new light. Quite literally actually, as Casandra Clifford ‘21 was in charge of lighting design on the project and perfectly utilized the lights and the side of the JKB building to convey the story. An overhead projector and a set of lamps were used to cast shadows and words onto the side of the theater.
Shadows were also used to represent connection. In a scene between Paul and Eve in which they are supposed to be dancing together, shadows were used so that the characters could “touch” without breaking any COVID-19 protocols. This effectively created a feeling of desire and distance in the play that I think resonated with everyone in attendance. In addition, shadow puppets were projected on the wall for a brief moment in the play. This added to the meta-theatrical structure of the play, allowing the human characters to take on different forms.
The characters of Mr. Kovacs, the Barber, the Doctor, and the Waiter (all played by Izzy Maher ‘22) acted as the spine of the play. These characters may not have been at the forefront of the plot but I believe that they were a symbolic reminder of the people from both Hungary and the United States witnessing the destruction being caused by their own people. One large monologue and various small moments, all delivered by Maher, reveal how there could be possible solutions to the relationships between not only the characters but to the relationship between their home countries at large. While the steps to correct these wrongs seem too far out of reach, these side characters show that connection is closer than it appears.
The Danube was truly an enriching theater experience and I was glad to watch some form of live theater again, no matter how different it might have felt. Hats off to the cast and crew for creating a safe and enjoyable evening.
Written by: María Irene Fornés
Directed by: Hanna Yurfest ‘21
Stage Manager: Callan Daniels ‘23
Lighting Design: Casandra Clifford ‘21
Costume Design: Camila Tardif ’22
Cast: Coco McNeil ‘21, Spencer Evett ‘21, Julian Schepis ‘22, Izzy Maher ‘22
Emily Zeller ’22 is a staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter