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Niagara University Theatre presents ‘The Rimers of Eldritch’

by Emily Kaufman

    Niagara University Theatre opens its new season on Thursday, Oct. 18 with “The Rimers of Eldritch.” The play by Lanford Wilson is directed by Steve Braddock, director of Niagara University Theatre and includes an ensemble cast of 17 students.
    Set in the mid-20th century in the fictional town of Eldritch, Miss., the play explores the attitudes, biases and prejudices of a decaying community.
    “On the surface the play is a bit of a mystery—a man has been killed, the woman who killed him is on trial in court—but underneath it is Lanford Wilson’s lyrical indictment of small town attitudes in Midwestern Bible-Belt America,” said Braddock.
    At the heart of the play are bias, prejudice and gossip. Eldritch is a town in which the lines between religion and law are blurred and where gossip and prejudice are mechanisms that seem to run the lives of the characters.
    This dark, poetic play conjures up an eerie sensation crafted by a pervasive feeling of instability. According to Braddock, the sentiment prevalent throughout this town is “akin to that feeling when something seems just a little off or you see something in the corner of your eye and you turn and there’s nothing there.”
    The name Eldritch, Celtic in origin, itself means unnatural, hideous, or weird, so the sense that something in this town is off-kilter is intrinsic to the play.  Additionally, “there’s a lyrical poeticism about Lanford Wilson’s writing that has a haunting quality,” said Braddock.
    To create a threatening atmosphere of darkness and instability, set designer David Dwyer crafted a set with a series of levels and stairs complemented by broken boards and jagged lines, which help give an unbalanced effect.
    The actors have also been challenged by the complexity of this play to faithfully construct the mindsets of the characters and evoke the haunting quality that lies at the heart of the play. During initial table talks and the subsequent rehearsals over the past three weeks, the actors experimented with their characters and their relationships to achieve the overall feeling of the play.
    “The process of any rehearsal is exploration and discovery. I think my job as a director is not to tell the actors what the relationships are but to let them discover them along with me. The wonderful part of the journey for all of us who create art together is that collaborative process—the notion that we’re finding out about this town together,” said Braddock.
    Aside from the challenge to navigate the multi-level set and discover and convey the complexities of the characters, the students are also presented with several other challenges, which make this play a tremendous tool for growth as actors.
    First, 13 of the 17 actors are on stage throughout the entire duration of the play, which tests the actors’ endurance. The challenge is “remaining focused, remaining in the moment, remaining open and available to the other actors all of the time for two hours,” said Braddock.
    The language of the play can also be troublesome. Although the play is written in the vernacular of a Midwestern common person, Wilson’s language is very articulate and laden with metaphor. In fact, the title itself points to metaphor. “Rimers” refers to the rime, or heavy frost, with which one of the characters is enamored. Though the frost covers the town and makes it appear pure and beautiful, underneath it all dwells the ugliness and prejudices.
    As if the multi-dimensionality of the play wasn’t challenging enough, the piece was also written non-chronologically so that scenes jump back and forth in time and overlap and echo each other. For the actors, this means memorization of lines is more difficult and the interpretation of whole flow of the play requires more thought.
    But Braddock is confident with his cast and proud of the hard work and passion they have put into this production from the beginning.
    “We’ve been having wonderful conversations in rehearsal with the cast—the discoveries they’re making are phenomenal. I hope that the NU community that comes and sees this will see the level of expertise and commitment and tremendous hard work that goes into one of these productions,” said Braddock.
    Audiences will also notice the universality of the characters and that the bias and mean-spiritedness that they exhibitand that prevailed when Wilson wrote this play still exist in American communities today. Through the tremendous acting of the students, audiences will recognize that these prejudices and miscommunication lead to the detriment of a community.
    “It has been a joyous process. It’s a process of experimentation and discovery. We’ve had three weeks of rehearsal and there are three more to go. We’re almost there,” added Braddock.
    The Rimers of Eldritch will be performed in Niagara University’s Leary Theatre at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, and Monday, Oct. 22, and at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, and Saturday, Oct. 20, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, Oct. 20, and Sunday, Oct. 21 (with post-show discussion).
    For tickets and information, call 716-286-8685 or visit the NU Theatre Box Office.

Cast Members
Brianna Lanoye (Wilma Atkins)
Amy Mings (Evelyn Jackson)
Joshua Ranallo (Peck Johnson)
Glenna Rankin (Patsy Johnson)  
Grace Turner (Martha Truit)
Megan Kemple (Nelly Windrod)
Richard Cole (Judge-Preacher)
Haley Keeley (Mary Windrod)
Patrick J. Tighe (Robert Conklin)
Richard Vogt (Trucker)
Alissa Sumerano (Cora Groves)
Steven Foote (Walter)
Josephine Lazusky (Eva Jackson)
Jeff Burruano (Josh Jackson)
Fabio H. Del Carlo (Skelly Mannor)Kendyl Litwiller (Mavis Johnson)
Leacel Hillenbrand (Lena Truit)
Staff
Costume Designer: Brittany Metz (theater design/technology alumna)
Stage Manager: senior Steph Schmidt
Assistant Stage Manage: junior Saige Woods
Set Design: David Dwyer
Lighting Design: Patty Rihn
Sound Desigh: Glenn Bernadis

 

NU Theatre upcoming shows:
“Rumors,” Nov. 8-18
“Urintown the Musical,” Dec. 6-16
“Short Play Festival,” Jan. 18-26, 2013
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” Feb. 14-17
“Time Stands Still,” Feb 22-24
“The Learned Ladies,” March 21-26
“Into the Woods,” April 18-28

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