This weekend, romance and commercial advertising will come together at the Calhoun Cabaret.
As part of his senior project, Tommy Bazarian ’15 will play the title character in his musical adaptation of “Jon,” a short story by George Saunders. The play, which Bazarian scripted, takes place in a facility where people are raised as test subjects for advertisements, acting as ideal consumer focus groups. The storyline follows Jon and his love interest Carolyn as they decide whether or not to stay in the facility after Carolyn discovers she is pregnant. Alyssa Miller ’16, who plays Carolyn, described the show as a “dystopian love story.”
“It’s sort of a bizarre story, but it’s a really beautiful story,” Miller said. “The feelings and situations are very universal even though the story itself is esoteric in a lot of ways.”
The human subjects living in the facility struggle to communicate, as their vocabulary is limited to language they have learned through their lives as commercial testers, Miller said. Jacob Osborne ’16, the show’s director, noted that the portrayal of advertisements in both the short story and the production is exaggerated in order to highlight the fact that the characters’ lives are entirely enveloped by the commercial culture around them.
Bazarian said he chose to adapt the short story after rediscovering it last summer. He added that he began to write “spacey, weird, folksy love songs” in the voices of Jon and Carolyn — the only two characters who sing during the performance — and then wove the songs into his adaptation, which he believes adheres faithfully to the original story.
The songs, which Bazarian described as indie folk ballads, consistently remind audiences of the love story that runs as an undercurrent through the play’s dystopian setting.
Saunders, who has listened to some of the music sent to him by Bazarian, echoed this sentiment, adding that he expected Bazarian to find the emotional core of the story through the music.
“[The music is] very catchy in a strange way,” Osborne said. “It would be a great success if people left the theater with these songs stuck in their heads like the kids have the advertisements in theirs.”
Bazarian said he hopes the production will be able to reconcile the inarticulate speech that characters use to express emotion and meaning with the traditional belief that each line in a musical needs to be straightforward and obviously understandable.
The production will also feature video art which will be projected across both the stage and shown on monitors, according to Osborne. Bazarian added that these video projections attempt to harness the ongoing assault of advertising present within the minds of the characters and recreate those visuals for the audience.
“It’s just a different take on a musical,” Bazarian said. “I’ve always wondered if the form could be twisted and if the songs could serve a different purpose, if music could fit in theater in a nontraditional way.”
Miller said she expected audiences to enjoy the production’s creative use of language, explaining that a large portion of the characters’ lines consists of references to advertisements.
Performances of “Jon” will run through Saturday.