A Theater Studies senior project will bring a Victorian novel into the 21st century.
“La/Dy/Da,” an experimental theater adaptation of Henry James’s “The Portrait of a Lady” that was devised by students in the “Company and Text: Portrait of a Lady” (THST 382) performance seminar, opens tonight at the Whitney Theater. The play, a senior project for Miranda Rizzolo ’15 and Gabrielle Hoyt-Disick ’15, explores themes of feminism and individual freedom through its protagonist, Isabel Archer. Kate Pincus ’15, the play’s producer, said the ensemble hopes to demonstrate that the medium of experimental theater can appeal to all audiences. Rizzolo, who plays Archer, highlighted the transformation that her character undergoes throughout the play.
“She starts the play idealistic, maybe even naive, and she grows up a lot over five years or so,” Rizzolo said.
The play’s plot centers on Archer, a newly wealthy American expatriate in Europe. Throughout the course of the narrative, Archer is courted by many men before settling into one ultimately unhappy marriage. The story explores the nature of Archer’s choices and her inner life.
Rizzolo said much of the play’s attention is devoted to highlighting Archer’s inner thoughts and emotions. In one scene, Rizzolo explained, a character speaking to Archer repeats the same line over and over again, but Archer responds in a different way each time. The audience can see Archer work through every possible emotional reaction to the statement, she noted, adding that the lines between thought, dialogue, asides and soliloquy in the play are often blurred.
In addition to exploring how the characters’ inner worlds affect their daily behavior, the play explores how the interactions between characters have consequences on their psyches.
“Watching someone changes their life — the people who watch Isabel Archer change her life,” Hoyt-Disick said.
THST 382 ensemble members interviewed noted that their stage design for the production reflects the theme of Archer as a character who is constantly watched. As Archer is watched, Rizzolo said, the audience notices how the act of observation changes her as she molds herself to fit others’ expectations.
Margolin said the play’s devised nature makes it a highly collaborative venture that lends itself to being interpreted in a variety of ways by students in the class. Hoyt-Disick explained that every student in the seminar contributed to writing the script, including students who are not actors in the performance. Margolin stressed the importance of collaboration in the creative process for the play.
“In the process of adapting, the humanity and feelings of people’s very personal lives become attached to the text and comment on it,” she said.
Rizzolo said the imbuing of personal experience was important to her understanding of Isabel Archer. Hoyt-Disick likened the production process to examining Henry James’s work through a uniquely modern perspective.
Margolin noted that one example of the ensemble’s contemporary interpretation of the text is their feminist reading of the original novel. Hoyt-Disick said she saw the play as an exploration of the role of a woman who is more of an object than a free-willed actor.
Pincus also emphasized the balance of serious and lighthearted elements in the production, noting that the play contains a number of jokes, several choreographed dances and references to music artists, game shows and other elements of popular culture.
“I think Beyoncé would like it,” said Margolin.