Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
Are we a product of our environment? Can we be held responsible for our own weaknesses?
Maria Irene Fornes’s Mud, directed by Julia O’Connor, follows the story of three characters and their struggle to obtain the life they truly crave. Whether that life is fantastic and foreign or comfortable and controlled, Mud paints a picture of the possessive desires of mankind and the environments that deny those same desires.
Brendan McMahon (Undergraduate, ’14), Samantha Smedley (Undergraduate, ’14), and Robert Pike (Undergraduate, ’14) discuss their discoveries and challenges through the production process.
What is it that makes Mud an engaging and pertinent piece to a contemporary audience?
McMahon (Henry): Mud engages audiences through its simple approach to human nature. This piece is pertinent no matter what time or era it is produced, because people can relate to these three very real characters.
Smedley (Mae): Mud has such a distinct expressive language and profound intensity in its characters that will easily attract young and old audiences today. It is a brave play. By brave I mean that Mud realistically and artistically captures the lives of three extraordinary individuals who all have separate desires, passions, and weaknesses. Their story of struggle and distress intertwines beautifully in a world that appears hopeless and dark. Yet there is a sense of expectation and optimism that is relatable to each of us today. Mud is a piece that will make every audience member feel as if they were brought into the world of the characters, allowing an inevitable sense of vulnerability, intimacy, and sentiment throughout the play.
Pike (Lloyd): I believe what makes Mud engaging and pertinent to an audience is the fact that the text is not afraid to engage the audience. The world of the play is a very active; the characters are surging with this energy and lust to be anywhere other than where they are. The action of the play is powerful. Our production is not afraid to throw the action of the piece into the audience’s faces and inspire conversation and change.
Maria Irene Fornes is known for tackling several social issues in each of her pieces. What do you believe to be the primary social issue focused on in this production of Mud?
Smedley: Mud tackles the issue of animal behavior. The play primarily mirrors that of animal tendencies such as dominance over one’s home and possessions as well as drawing on animalistic brutality and instinctive behavior. All three characters demonstrate some degree of animalistic behavior throughout the play. Their actions are due to the fact that they are products of their environment. However, despite the characters being uneducated and impoverished the inexhaustible fight within each of them to either escape that environment or maintain it is felt till the end. Mud illustrates the power of the human faith, hope, and heart in a world that won’t stop stripping the characters of their basic humanity.
Pike: I would say that poverty is the angle that we have used to jump off from in rehearsals. Monetary poverty is one thing, but Mud talks of a deeper sense of poverty. Mother Teresa once said “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” This is the poverty that pervades Fornes’s text. Mae and Lloyd struggle with this isolation and loneliness because of a society that says they are never good enough. The physical, mental, spiritual, monetary; these are all facets of the same monster we call Poverty and Mud is an excellent vehicle to bring these issues to heart.
In the world of Mud, what is it that makes your character valuable? What is it, you feel, that the audience will empathize with?
McMahon: I do not feel that there is selfishness in Henry. Henry wants what he needs, and nothing more. I feel that the audience will empathize with Henry’s want to take care of Mae and his need to find someone to take care of him.
Smedley: Mae is a character of desire which should not be confused with selfishness. She has a passion and new found faith that is unmatched and unfelt by her male counterparts. The hope she feels is embedded deep in the roots of her being. She exemplifies a sense of aspiration and expectation for something better than herself. Her tactics to achieve this better life may be questionable but her reasoning is genuine and blameless at its foundation. We all have these aspirations in our lives to achieve greatness or accomplish something better than ourselves. Mae knows there is something in herself that can change if given the opportunity and she fights to find that opportunity no matter the cost.
Pike: Well, the value of Lloyd is the same as the value of every human being, an irrevocable human dignity. This human dignity is intrinsically tied with human potential; the potential to build, to love, to sacrifice, and to heal. I feel the audience will empathize with what I empathize with in Lloyd; the battle that he undertakes within himself between his desires and his own happiness. His handicaps of ignorance, sickness, and an overall negative view of a world as one that never cared for him makes his battle all the more difficult and worth fighting.
How has this piece challenged you as an actor (or actress)?
McMahon: Mud has challenged me to immerse myself in a character that is very different than me. While the intentions, actions, and objectives are feasible for Brendan, it is a different experience for Henry. Another challenge that I have faced is learning how to move and how to live as a hemiplegic (or paralyzed) person. It has been an eye-opening experience.
Smedley: This play has challenged me as an actor primarily due to the language of the text. The text is contemporary yet uses such specific language and repetition that is difficult to master. Fornes specifically wrote each and every word, period, question mark, ellipses, and so on. The language is very particular and distinctive in this way. Finding meaning for every word and punctuation was crucial in this process. There is a new emphasis, meaning, and tactic for each word or phrase when repeated. This piece plays a great deal with quick tactical changes, often within two sentences. It is incredible language that appears simple in its wording but has such power and meaning within it.
Pike: In casting, sometimes there are characters that just fit well with the actor and their own personal demeanor and mannerisms. Between Lloyd (impoverished, uneducated, sickly, and over sexualized) and Bob Pike (happy, healthy, privileged, near-college-graduate who has never had to worry about the roof above his head) there is little in common. One of the strenuous aspects of the process has been finding the physicality and voice of Lloyd in Fornes’s text. With Lloyd, all to be found is truly there in the text, but to unlock it requires sacrifice and creativity of the actor. With the help of Julia and my fellow actors I have been able to explore this side of myself and evoke Lloyd as a psychological being in action.
Mud (Directed by Julia O’Connor) will run from October 4th-6th in the Lab Theatre, Hartke Facility.
October 3rd (Preview) at 8pm
October 4th and 5th at 8pm
October 6th at 2pm