Spring Theatre Production Celebrates the Absurd

Lawrence University’s theatre arts department celebrates the theater of the absurd with four performances of its spring production “‘B’Srd Shrts,” a program of four short plays May 15-17 in Stansbury Theatre of the Music-Drama Center.

Performances are 8 p.m. each night with an additional 3 p.m. matinee Saturday, May 17. Tickets, at $10 for adults and $5 for students/seniors, are available through the Lawrence box office, 920-832-6749 or boxoffice@lawrence.edu.

Freshman Kara Taft, senior Shallion Dixon and sophomore Aiden Campbell rehearse a scene from the Samuel Becket’s “What Where,” one of four tributes to the theater of the absurd in Lawrence’s production “‘B’Srd Shrts.”

The production is an artistic attempt to exploit the world of the absurd through relatively unknown works. Each play, 10-15 minutes long, represents a different era of the theatre of the absurd, a dramatic genre that employs disjointed, repetitious and meaningless dialogue, confusing situations and plots that lack logical development.

Each of the plots are unforgettable: Antonin Artaud’s 1925 “Jet of Blood,” calls for severed limbs to rain from the ceiling. “What Where,” Samuel Beckett’s final play, explores concepts of torture and interrogation. Caryl Churchill’s “This is a Chair” includes politically charged titles  — “The War in Bosnia,” “Genetic Engineering” — to each scene while the action is entirely unrelated to the titles. The fourth play, Johnny Meyer’s “Cryptomnesia,” was specially commissioned by Lawrence as an example of current perspective on absurdist theatre.

Timothy Troy and Kathy Privatt, professor and associate professor of theatre arts, respectively, share directing duties for the production, each overseeing two of the plays.

The inclusion of “Cryptomnesia” in “‘B’Srd Shrts” grew out of a meeting between Troy and Meyer at the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The Austin-based playwright’s “rigorous and playful writing” impressed Troy enough to extend an offer.

“It seemed natural to ask Johnny to write a piece so we could include a current perspective on the century-old absurdist impulse in theatre,” said Troy. Prior to launching a career as a playwright and actor, Meyer served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The production’s unique title was a deliberate choice on the part of the production team. Trying to simplify the complex ideas found within works of absurdist theatre, is “an impossible task” according to senior Ciara Stephenson, the production’s dramaturg.

“How do you simplify the ideas of plays that are simply not capable of being defined?,” said Stephenson. “These playwrights do not intend for the plays to be understood by our definitions of intellectual understanding. The ideas are about discovering self and human instinct.”

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.