The initial spring semester theatre offering by the Fairmont State University School of Fine Arts and Masquers theatre group is Jane Anderson’s “Defying Gravity,” a fictional account of the circumstances surrounding the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion that killed seven crew members, among them teacher Krista McAuliffe. The story is told from the point of view of Elizabeth, the teacher’s adult daughter, as she reminisces about the events, which occurred when she was 5 years old.
“The production is theatrically compelling, incorporating stimulating multi-media visual and aural imagery and a talented company of young actors to tell an uplifting story that affirms our impulse toward exploration and progress, even in the face of great loss,” said Dr. John O’Connor, Senior Professor of Theatre and Director.
“I first read ‘Defying Gravity’ several years ago and immediately added it to my ‘To Direct in the Future’ list because of its theatricality, and because it is a beautifully written and structured meditation on loss and hope,” O’Connor said.
“Defying Gravity” will be on the boards of the Wallman Hall Theatre on March 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and can be obtained for free by FSU and Pierpont Community & Technical College students. To order tickets, call the box office at (304) 367-4240 or visit www.fairmontstate.edu/tickets. Parents are advised that there will be strong language used in the play.
The style of the play is a combination of expressionism and magical realism. The actor playing Elizabeth portrays the character both as an adult and a child. One scene of the play depicts a character’s dream of future space travel with her husband. The impressionist artist Claude Monet appears in many scenes, floating through time. These devices distance the audience from a tragic event so they can more readily receive the play’s ultimate message of hope.
Among other thematic motifs, the play poses questions about the economic costs of space exploration in relation to government spending on social programs.
“Other themes include the necessity for moving forward in the face of great national and personal loss, and the dynamics of responsibility, guilt and forgiveness, issues that are resonating in our country today in the wake of Sandy Hook, Big Branch and the increasing political polarization of the populace,” O’Connor said.
Anderson dedicates the play “to that mysterious region on the other side of grief, where loss grows wings and flies us to the light.”
The production is noteworthy in that the director has enlisted the talents of faculty colleagues in the departments of art and music. Dr. Dan Eichenbaum, Assistant Professor of Music, has composed an original score for the production that combines French impressionism and contemporary minimalism, and Nick Lejeune, Instructor of Art, is creating projections inspired in part by the impressionist paintings of Claude Monet.
The cast members of “Defying Gravity,” all students in the FSU Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, are Ann Marie Witkowski of Grafton as Elizabeth, Lillian Gaylord of Martinsburg as the Teacher, Stephen Phillips of Fairmont as Claude Monet, Katherine Thompson of Salem, Ore., as Betty, Allen Ludwick of Grafton as Ed, Kiya Fitzgerald of Charles Town as Donna and John Hall of Clarksburg as C.B. Associate Professor of Theatre Troy Snyder is the scene and lighting designer, Theatre major Kurtis Dennison of Clarksburg designed the costumes and Theatre major Madison Whiting of Fairmont designed the props.
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