‘Out of the Garden’ traces themes of sexual freedom through history
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
The first of two winter productions by the Departments of Theatre and Stagecraft & Technology opens this Friday with a premise that is sinfully seductive. Out of the Garden, directed by Claire Fogal, is a compilation of selections from five plays by Caryl Churchill and Don Nigro, woven together to create a millennia-spanning story about the history of sexuality.
Out of the Garden is set in four distinct time periods: From Genesis’s story of Eve after being exiled from Eden; to the world of Vinegar Tom, set in 17th-century England, rife with witch trials; to Anima Mundi, which takes place before the turn of the 20th century and features historical figures including Madame Blavatsky, Ezra Pound, and W. B. Yeats; and finally, a modern-day monologue from Frankenstein about one woman’s infatuation with the monster and the myth. The plays are connected by overarching themes of sexuality and the progression of liberation.
“From the most repressed to the most releasing,” said Kate Rytter, who plays Susan, a very proper and drab Englishwoman in the Vinegar Tom world.
Originally, the Department had planned to only do the play Vinegar Tom, but Fogal wished to offset the utter bleakness of the play by incorporating other material, creating a story that is more positive, more diverse for audience and actors, and more pertinent to social issues of today.
Allegra Ferrari plays both Biblical Eve in the Genesis storyline and witch-hating Margery in Vinegar Tom. The latter play, explained Ferrari, presents a perspective that is necessary for its starkness, but not the most suited to 2017. In Vinegar Tom, she said, “All of the female characters are victims, and all of the male characters are just evil.”
“That’s not what feminism is,” said Nina Dosdall, referring to the mindset of hating all men. Out of the Garden aims to deliver a more inclusive message that resonates across space and time, with people of all genders learning to deconstruct toxic beliefs about sex, inequality, and agency.
Dosdall’s character Joan, also from Vinegar Tom, is a 50-year-old woman who begins to stand up for her own sexual freedom in a world that is far more repressive than our own. Joan is persecuted for witchcraft, which Dosdall believes provides a powerful commentary on the continuing struggle for women’s liberation. “We’re still opening up a lot of our issues to the world, and that still has very contentious reception […] So it’s interesting watching women develop through history,” she said.
This historical development starts with Eve, at the very onset of human discovery and sin. Eve is basically completely ignorant, with no knowledge of anything in the world and nobody to learn from, and Ferrari has had a lot of freedom in bringing this blank-slate character to life. “She’s definitely the most challenging character I’ve worked on, but the most liberating,” said Ferrari.
The world of 17th-century England is in some ways more familiar, but it poses its own difficulties. The actors have to immerse themselves into a mindset governed by very different principles, where fears of witchcraft are all too real. In this world, explained Dosdall, “You operate your life on superstition. That’s your belief structure, that’s your science, so it’s really hard to cut off your sense of logic.”
Luckily for audience members, they have the talent of the Theatre Department to draw them right into the small-town mob mentality that led to the witch trials.
The actors believe that the audience will also have no trouble following along with the four very different time periods. Assembled by Fogal, the scenes and themes that run throughout the play are deftly intertwined. “Especially when you see it laid out, it just all clicks together,” said Rytter. This production is the first ever premiere of this compilation play.
Out of the Garden runs from March 10–17 in the Douglas College Studio Theatre, with a free preview on Thursday, March 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets and show times are available at www.outofthegarden.bpt.me.