Coming to Cinemapolis: Neil LaBute’s ‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep’

Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg in "Into the Forest, Dark and Deep." Photo taken by Wendy Houseworth.

Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg in “In the Forest, Dark and Deep.” Photo courtesy of the Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca, taken by Wendy Houseworth.

A middle-aged woman sits on a hardwood floor, marked off by black tape. In front of her is a cardboard box and a pile of books — Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Hemingway — which she packs and unpacks for the next 95 minutes.

Come March 7th through 9th, she’ll be sitting on a 16-by-4 inch platform — raised two feet in the air — in one of Cinemapolis‘s 90-seat theatres. But for now, Anne Marie Cummings of the Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca is rehearsing a dramatic staged reading of Neil LaBute’s psychological thriller “In a Forest, Dark and Deep.”

Directed by Ithaca College professor Cynthia Henderson, “In a Forest, Dark and Deep” features a sister/brother duo: Betty (Cummings), an English professor, and Bobby (Evan Stewart Eisenberg), a blue-collar carpenter. When her tenant suddenly abandons her cabin in the middle of the woods, Betty calls her estranged younger brother, Bobby, for physical and emotional support.

But siblings can be both your best friends and your worst enemies. They tease, bicker and ridicule. They know how to get under each other’s skin and how to hide the truth under a protective wrap of “maybes” and “I’m kiddings.” That’s what Betty and Bobby do, volleying barbs on everything from money to morals.

“I told them they’re almost liked caged animals,” says Henderson. “It’s like a couple of caged animals constantly trying to find out what the other is up to.”

LaBute’s funny, smart and witty dialogue lends itself to this. While Eisenberg adopts what he describes as a “guttural New York style blue-collar flow,” he articulates Bobby’s foul and astute observations. “Truth hurts,” he says early on, which quickly becomes a refrain of the play.

“I should have just called the moving guys,” says Betty. “I didn’t ask for a free hour of therapy.”

But lucky for us, she didn’t. As Bobby emotionally probes into the mind and actions of his sister, Cummings becomes LaBute’s Russian nesting doll — revealing hidden layers while illustrating her range and dexterity as an actor.

Cummings, the Readers’ Theatre’s founder and artistic director, starred as Abbey Prescott in the company’s performance of LaBute’s “Mercy Seat” last year. She said that role was a piece of cake compared to Betty.

“This is by far the most challenging role,” says Cummings. “I mean, it really calls on everything for an actor because the trick with this character is masking what’s underneath, but having what’s underneath there and having it really be there, and not forgetting, but just trusting that it is.”

To prepare her actors for the intricacies of their roles, Henderson said she asked them nosy and personal questions about their characters.

“It’s very dysfunctional, but there is a sibling love and need there that could get lost in the arguments, and so I wanted to bring forward the care they have for each other even if they don’t want to admit it,” Henderson said.

That affection is visibly there when Cummings smacks Eisenberg with her script and when Eisenberg pleads and comforts her. They dance around each other with both action and language and at one moment, Bobby compare themselves with wolves.

Like wolves, they’re at each other’s throats at various points of the play, but they also have a fierce loyalty to one another. Sure, they have their disagreements — which initially transcended the play.

“[Anne Marie Cummings] was looking at me like, ‘Is this guy out of his mind? Is he playing the role?'” says Eisenberg on their first rehearsal together. “All it was was I was just standing my ground.”

Cummings, who cast “In a Forest, Dark and Deep,” said she had Eisenberg in mind for the challenging role of Bobby. Eisenberg was the male lead in “Soul Mates,” a play written and directed by Cummings, and performed as part of the Readers’ Theatre’s 2013 summer series.

“I chose this play for the Readers’ Theatre so any play that I choose is usually a play because I think of people in the community who are going to be right for it and are going to like it,” she said.

LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep” first premiered in 2011 at West End’s Vaudeville Theatre in London. It will be the Readers’ Theatre’s first play at their new downtown location in Cinemapolis.

“In a Forest, Dark and Deep” was written by Neil LaBute and directed by Cynthia Henderson, starring Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg; with music by Hank Roberts. A staged reading will be performed from March 7-9 at Cinemapolis on 120 East Green Street in Ithaca, N.Y.

Tickets can be purchased at www.thereaderstheatre.com. Advance tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults. Tickets will be $12 for students (with student ID) and $15 for adults at the door.

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‘Pasolini’s Last Words’: poetic, lyrical and relevant

A man walking through a tall field of wheat stands and beckons. The camera follows him, pushing stalks of wheat out of the way. The scene re-enacts an excerpt from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 book, La Divina Memesis, a word play on Dante’s Divine Comedy. “I watched him walk ahead of me, up a steep path overgrown by a bad and innocent weed,” reads the film’s narrator.

And so begins Pasolini’s Last Words, Cathy Lee Crane’s hour-long biographical and experimental documentary on the death and works of Italian writer, filmmaker, activist and intellectual, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Crane, an Ithaca College cinema and photography professor, produced, filmed and edited the piece over the course of six years. Pasolini’s Last Words was screened on March 27 at Cornell Cinema and followed by a question and answer session with Crane.

Although Crane is a filmmaker, she was introduced to Pasolini’s work through his literature rather than his films. After reading his unfinished novel, Petrolio (the Italian word of “oil”), she was inspired by the book’s fragmentation, a style that she adopts in her documentary. Told in 10 chapters shuffling between his death, interviews, essays, films, and books, Crane’s documentary offers a portrait of Pasolini and how he saw the world.

The film begins with Pasolini’s death. He was murdered on November 2, 1975, at the beach of Ostia, near Rome, his body driven over with a car until it was unrecognizable. Archival Italian news broadcasts replayed his death. This archival footage is followed by a clip of Pasolini’s last recorded interview, where he says that everything is political. Before his death, Pasolini had just finished his film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, based on the book by Marquis de Sade. The controversial film — a commentary on how humans become dehumanized — focused on four wealthy fascist libertines after the end of Mussolini’s Italy in 1943.

“That’s why I made this film. Because what he had to say is still relevant,” Crane said in the Q&A session following the screening. “That and making a film about historical reference: the possibility that he was murdered because he understood this right-wing attention that was not made public or acknowledged until 20 years after his murder.”

Through Crane’s lens, we re-discover Pasolini’s prophetic wit. Minus the news footage of his deaths, all the words in her film were written or once spoken by Pasolini. “How I look at reality springs from the personal, so all my films are how I see reality and my Marxist reality,” he says.

Pasolini’s ideas are still relevant — from his views on consumerism (“The language of things have not changed, but the things themselves have changed”) to his understanding of military governments (that by governments bombing women and children, people will want even more militarized and communistic governments). The latter, which he calls the “state of treason,” foreshadows Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism, where she agrees that “shock and awe” from natural or man-made disasters have pushed through negative capitalist change.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ideas fueled Crane’s experimentation, which ranges from the fragmented narrative to double exposures and multiple split screens. In an essay reflecting on his first film, Accattone, Pasolini wrote, “If I wanted to reshoot Accattone today, I couldn’t find somebody playing himself.” Taking those words as a challenge, Crane hired Bochay Drum to attempt to re-enact the character of Accattone from the film. Drum watched hours and hours of a scene from Pasolini’s film until his body could replicate it. Crane juxtaposes and loops the clip from Accattone with the modern re-enactment in the mise-en-scène. While Drum is sitting in a chair in a room, behind him, the exact same scene in Pasolini’s film is double exposed on a square screen. The images begin to overlap as the clip loops. Both Franco Citti (the original Accattone) and Drum rise and run toward the camera. Despite how closely the motions mirror each other, Drum lacks Citti’s spirit, proving that while anyone can replicate the gestures, no one can be Accattone like Franco Citti was.

The last couple of chapters in Crane’s documentary are re-enactments from scenes in Pasolini’s book Petrolio. The unfinished novel is about Carlos 1 (Drum), a religious bourgeois man employed by an Italian oil and gas company, and his sexual and lower-class twin, Carlos 2 (Amanda Setton). Crane employs an attractive femme fatale as Carlos 2 to tempt Carlos 1. In one scene, she walks closer to him, laughing and smiling until she turns just out of reach. In another, the two dance, and the camera follows, swaying as if it were dancing with them. The scenes are lovely and poetic, but also as elusive as the unfinished novel.

While Crane defined Pasolini through his ideas, words and impact, the documentary’s by no means a complete portrait. Pasolini’s Last Words doesn’t delve into all of Pasolini’s works. The film doesn’t offer biographical information about his family or childhood. At times, the fragmented style makes the film’s messages unclear. But the excerpts Crane has chosen are as engaging as the man — standing, beckoning and waiting for us to follow him.

Juan Gonzalez: A minority people’s history of the United States

250px-Juan_GonzálezWinston Churchill may have said history is written by the victors, but Juan Gonzalez urges people to take a closer look at the real writers: the journalists who provide the rough drafts to history.

“The instrument they report inherently serves as material that is mined by scholars who decode our history later,” he said.

Gonazalez — known as an anchor on “Democracy Now!” — spoke about his new book, “News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media” at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites. He uses this as an opportunity to give the audience a history lesson — one that historian Howard Zinn would have approved of.

Narrating the legacies of black, Asian, Latino and Native American journalists, Gonzalez works at making influential minority reporters — such as The LA Times’ Ruben Salazar, the Sacramento Bee’s John Rollin, and The Pittsburgh Courier’s Robert L. Vann — to be household names.

“What we do in the book is that all the major change is by the people,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the people who rise up and change it.”

Working as a journalist for the past 35 years, Gonzalez knows how to change history firsthand. He has covered stories ranging from economics and labor to crime and race relation during his tenure at “Democracy Now!” and at the New York Daily News.

“I question myself every day on how much I have censored myself,” he said.

Although Juan Gonzalez is a self-defined “hard news man,” he says journalism is failing because of corporate ownership, which control the media.

“Those who control the pipes are buying the networks,” he said. “The news is no longer The New York Times, ABC, NBC and CBS. It’s Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner.”

He said cable television is a gold mine for media owners who charge customers for their product.

“It’s not that there’s no money in media,” he said. “There’s just not any money in legacy media. But there’s money in cell phones and cable TV.”

Because of the path journalism is taking, Gonzalez said it becomes more important to push change as well as remember the people who did just that.

“One of the things we tried to do in my book was to tell the story of these journalists because they are just as important as the Horace Greenleys and Walter Cronkites,” Gonzalez said.

Unveiling the women under the veil

"The Women" by Yassi Golshani is one of the works in "The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces" exhibit at the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College.

“The Women” by Yassi Golshani is one of the works in “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces” exhibit at the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College.

While the events of 9/11 may have changed how Americans perceive Muslim women who wear hijabs, the traveling art exhibition, “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces,” the newest exhibit at Ithaca College’s Handwerker Gallery, tackles the controversial issue head on.

The exhibit, curated by Jennifer Heath, an arts journalist and critic, and the founder of “The Arts Paper: A Cultural Journal of the Boulder Arts Commission,” is a collection of 32 works and artists in an assortment of media forms — ranging from short film and documentary to sculpture and inkjet prints.

Iranian artist Yassi Golshani’s “The Women” features a wall of more than 180 papier-mâché mummies wrapped from Iranian French newsprint. Each figurine is uniquely designed, but the collection of women, dressed in similar black garbs with white palms signaling the universal hand stop sign, present a sense of sadness and foreboding. The stiffness of the papier-mâché coffins and the women’s range of peaceful and pained expressions further Golshani’s agenda to open social dialogue about the religious and sexual persecution of these Iranian women wearing chadors.

Other works follow a similar narrative arch. Helen Zughab’s six 26-by-21 inch inkjet prints titled “Secrets Under the ‘Abaya’” portray a woman under the veil. The works contain strong influences from Picasso and Mondrian, artists known for respectively launching the cubism and De Stijl movements. The abstract prints are arranged on the wall like a comic strip with the last one revealing a woman with long-flowing blond hair and pink eyes welling up in tears while delivering the punch line in a comment bubble: “I am not what you think I am!”

Despite presidential candidate Mitt Romney infamously misogynistic comment on possessing a “binder full of women” during one of the 2012 presidential debates, the works in the Handwerker Gallery exhibit reclaim female power. “Yad Chava,” Jo-Ann Brody’s clay tablets bound by steel rings, is a literal “binder full of women,” but these women rise up beyond the tablet’s clay pages that contain them. “Yad Chava,” a fitting name for Brody’s piece, translates to both “hand” and “memorial” in Hebrew. Her autobiographical work is a memorial of powerful women in her family rising up. Meanwhile, Aphrodite Desiree Navab’s seven 21-by-16 inch inkjet prints, “Super East-West Woman,” champion the power of the veil, which also acts as a surrogate Superwoman cape. The series of prints depict a woman wearing Clark Kent’s signature “S” symbol under a long, blue veil.

Either by providing awareness or empowering women, “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces” lifts the veil masking the Muslim-American identity.

“The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces” exhibit is open in the Handwerker Gallery from January 24, 2013 to March 8, 2013.

Why should we care about celebrities?

When Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to spend 90 days in jail this summer, it coincided with news of the BP oil leakage stopping as well as the decision for the appointment of Buffalo’s new police commissioner.

 

Qina Liu

Her sobs in the courtroom — claiming, “It wasn’t a vacation” — filled local half-hour news segments on WGRZ Channel 2 On Your Side and WIVB Channel 4. Yet while I understand why news of Lohan’s arrest may be covered on TMZ, I do not understand why news networks were also covering her episodes with authority — especially since her arrest does not affect anyone from Buffalo, N.Y.

However, information and interest in Lohan’s arrest should not be surprising. As Jill Neimark of Psychology Today wrote in a May 1, 1995 article, “Whether it’s a hero-turned-murderer or a rock star committing suicide, the media brings us together in a global society.” She argues that we put celebrities such as Lohan in the limelight so that we can collectively criticize them — we put them down to feel better about ourselves.

“Though fractured into bits of gossip, celebrities, of course, still bring us real meaning,” Neimark writes. Neimark claims that Paris Hilton’s reality television show, “The Simple Life,” may simply give our lives meaning, and that Lohan’s escapades serve their purpose as entertainment.

While Neimark’s comments may validate why Lohan appears in on local news channels — and why people are interested in watching — using bad celebrity press is demeaning, especially when there is real news to be told. Don’t people deserve to know about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf or about the cholera outbreak in Haiti? Don’t people deserve to learn about real news? Why is our culture so focused on celebrity and not politics or government? Don’t people understand that politics matter — that legislation and opinion affect what one can and cannot do?

Amy Henderson, a historian in the Smithsonian Institution, wrote that people used to value “military heroes” and “eminent statesmen.” People used to look up to people who actually mattered — and perhaps talked about and covered things that actually mattered too. While I am not saying that Lohan does not matter, she certainly matters a whole lot less next to the BP oil spill disaster.

Although Lohan’s claim-to-fame in The Parent Trap and Mean Girls make her a modern celebrity, and she may have been good at what she does, it is overshadowed by the coverage of the press. Her flops of recent movies, such as I Know Who Killed Me, and her stints in jail do not help her image either. In fact, her DWI arrests and her crying incident make her more laughable than credible.

But it is not Lohan’s fault. Perhaps her childhood stardom put her on the media radar in the first place. Still, as Henderson describes, the modern celebrity is “celebrated not for achievement, but simply for ‘well-knowness.’” This explains how a character like “Snooki” has ever entered American households, and why people return to the Jersey Shore. But don’t you see something wrong with that picture?

Should Lindsay Lohan be more famous — or infamous — than the crooks on Wall Street or than those responsible for the oil disaster in the Gulf?

It saddens me that ten years after the U.S. war with Afghanistan began, nobody can name how many soldiers died for our nation in either Iraq or Afghanistan. At the same time, however, everyone knows that Jon and Kate had eight kids, and that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the Ken and Barbie of the celebrity generation. Everyone knows about Lohan’s misadventures in and out of jail and rehab, but we do not know offhand that according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty count, there were 4,427 and counting fatalities in Iraq and 1,380 similar cases in Afghanistan.

However, I am not here to underscore the importance of celebrity culture and its ability to make a societal impact. I applaud Sean Penn — and not just his ability as an actor — for camping in Haiti and trying to help a good cause. I was happy to see him report to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about the conditions in Haiti this summer, and I am pleased that he corresponded with The New York Times about what it was like on the island after Hurricane Tomas swept the country. I am glad that Lady Gaga voiced her opinion about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. At the same time, I am just asking society to be more mindful of important political and social issues.   

While I will be the first to admit that I found Lohan’s breakdown laughable, I do not understand why mainstream media will highlight Lohan, especially when more time and energy could be devoted to disasters such as the Indonesia tsunami which killed at least 113 people and left 502 missing, or solving the problems exposed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The BP oil spill, called the “worst in U.S. history” by organizations such as The Los Angeles Times, caused a lasting ecological effect and will affect the area for years. Travis Walter Donovan of the Huffington Post compiled a list of seven long-term effects of the gulf oil spill, which is continuing to affect factors such as tourism and the seafood industry and the economy along the Gulf coast. As for talk of Lohan’s jail time — it will only last until the next time Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift at the VMA awards or until Janet Jackson flashes her cleavage at the Superbowl.

But do both events really merit the same amount of back-to-back coverage? After all, media reflects a society, and if all we care about is which celebrities are doing drugs, sex and booze, what does that say about us as a culture?

Lohan, although a celebrity, does not deserve to fill the shoes of the 24-hour news cycles of the mainstream media. After all, if issues in the press were not overshadowed by Lindsay’s jail time, perhaps these issues will last longer than 24 hours.

Qina Liu is an Ithaca College journalism major from Buffalo, N.Y.

James Carville tells public to get out and vote

James Carville gives a speech at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Ithaca College. Photograph taken by Qina Liu.

With bank bailouts, wars and health care on everyone’s mind, political consultant James Carville said people cannot complain about the current political climate without participating in the polls.

Carville, who is a best-selling author and CNN producer, talk-show host and contributor, presented his points at 7:30 p.m. yesterday on the eve of election night in Emerson Suites at Ithaca College. With his background as an influential political pundit, Carville said despite corrupt dealings within government, he values his work in politics, and that the American public should care too.

“I’m 66 years old, and after everything I’ve done, I’m proud to have worked in politics,” Carville said. “Because you can say all you want about politics and it may be true — they may be crooks, they may just say things to get elected, they may run negative ads, they may, in fact, market to interest groups — to some extent, but one thing you can’t say is what they do is unimportant.”

He stressed the importance of involvement, saying that people will not have control over government decisions without first controlling the ballot.

“The ability to communicate is the ability to influence,” he said. “The ability to influence is the ability to have an impact on the direction of the country.”

By impacting the direction of one’s country, one affects whether a country goes to war. One decides whether one will pay for a banking system that ruins the economy. By engaging in politics, he said the American people are making a choice.

“If you want to make the wars that you don’t have any say by people that you don’t know, that is your choice. But I don’t think that that’s the choice that you want to make,” Carville said.

Carville preaches that students should play an active voice in politics.

“I tell my students that there are two ways you can go through life: you can make rain or you can get rained on,” he said. “And I think it’s just an unthrilling way to go through life with an umbrella on your head.”

While the founder of the independent nonprofit polling organization Democracy Corps admitted that the Democrats may be the first to lose the elections tonight, the New Orleans, La., resident said votes are needed to stabilize the left-winged agenda, or to even support the right-winged platform.

“If you’re a Democrat, there’s a hurricane coming tomorrow, and the best you can hope for is somehow it decreases its intensity to a category four — which is bad, but at least you will still have some construction left standing,” Carville said.

Ultimately, Carville leaves the fate of the polls in to the people’s hands.

“Don’t get rained on,” he said. “Make your rain. Be involved. If you don’t like the course, change the course. It’s up to you.”

‘Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army’

In Jeremy Scahill’s book, “Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” he describes the war in Iraq as another crusade. This time, the Catholic Church aren’t the ones offering indulgences: the U.S. government is paying mercenary soldiers to do the fighting.

This privatization had detrimental effects, said reporter Naomi Klein in a 2010 public lecture at Ithaca College. Klein wrote “The Shock Doctrine,” a book which describes how governments use tragedies (such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina) to further political agendas and economic reform.

“We always saw our two books, ‘The Shock Doctrine’ andBlackwater,’ as being two sides of the same coin,” Klein said.

“Jeremy was just zeroing in on the real mercenaries, the Blackwaters and these other private companies that showed up in the chaos and that were performing the role of the police, but of course, it wasn’t in the public interest. They were protecting corporations. They were protecting developers,” she said. “No one really knew what they were doing, and Jeremy was the first one to blow the whistle on that.”

Blowing the whistle on operations such as Blackwater, Scahill shows how the company — who also hired Chile veterans from dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign — employed mercenaries to perform tasks of the U.S. soldiers. In theory, the work of Blackwater would supplement the work of the U.S. army; however, Blackwater’s agenda wasn’t purely patriotic. Its founder, the religious security kingpin Erik Prince, was interested in financial gain.

After all, “In Iraq, the postwar business boom is not oil. It is security,” says a Times of London piece.

This is clearly shown when four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004.

This tragedy could have been prevented if Blackwater better prepared these men, Scahill argues. The four contractors were “in the middle of the volatile city that morning, not to mention in SUVs, short-staffed and under-armed,” Scahill writes.

The “shock and awe” from this event allowed Blackwater to capitalize on the situation. The four deaths were used as Blackwater propaganda; the company was now able to sell more contracts.

And so, the War on Terror becomes another merchandise that can be packaged, shipped, expedited and marketed to all.

And while Blackwater’s winning contracts, people are losing lives.

Jeremy Scahill won an Izzy Award for Independent Media for his work on “Blackwater: the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army.”

To read my review on Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” click here.

Girl Power Makes A Comeback

Sometimes a brilliant performance only needs an open microphone and an empty stage. In addition to these two essentials, the crowd’s enthusiasm and the actresses’ talent made this year’s annual Valentine’s Day production of Eve Ensler’s popular play “The Vagina Monologues” a success.

As a part to the global V-Day movement to end violence against women, “The Vagina Monologues,” performed by the Ithaca College Players took place at 8 p.m. on Feb. 13 and 14 in Emerson Suites. Ending with a standing ovation, the play, under the direction senior Katie Venetsky, showcased immense talent.

Senior drama major Stephanie “Annie” Goodenbour, stole the show with her performance of “The Vagina Workshop.” One breath short of a nervous breakdown and panicked at the prospect of not having orgasms, the actress finished her undergraduate career in the IC Players annual showing of “The Vagina Monologues” as a poised and elegant British woman. The IC Player veteran was stunning, encouraging schoolgirl giggles from the lively audience as she paused briefly before she said the word “vagina.”

In another monologue, junior Yvonne Romero was like the sweet and sexy Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) from the hit television series “The Office.” Starring in the segment “The Woman who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” Romero played a female prostitute who conducted an orchestra of moans. The other actresses hid among the audiences as Romero listed a series of moans. Popular moans included the “twitter moan,” “the college student moan” and the “musical moan” in which the actresses broke into a chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

Meanwhile, sophomore Melanie Sherman’s “Angry Vagina” monologue was a humorous crowd pleaser, as women laughed at her comparison of having sexual intercourse to having a cotton tampon shoved up one’s vagina. Sherman’s funny monologue preached comfort with pleasure. As she described how one should not compromise her vagina for uncomfortable thongs or floral sprays, the audience filled Emerson Suites with applause and laughter.

While “The Vagina Monologues” included a dozen other performances, other highlights included freshman Nikki Veit pacing the stage like a rock star in the segment “Reclaiming Cunt,” and freshman Pascale Florestal’s mannerisms as a little girl in the monologue “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could.”

Although some monologues were light and humorous while reflecting larger social issues, “The Vagina Monologues” ended on a more somber note, depicting the countless women raped by soldiers everyday in the Congo. While one may still giggle at the word “vagina,” one cannot help feeling more apt to stand up for women’s rights in the future.

Click here to see this article in The Ithacan. For more information on the V-Day movement, click here.

‘The Good Body’ resonates with viewers

Eve Ensler (Megan Ort) is every woman that has gone to the gym in order to lose that food baby. She is every woman who has picked up a Cosmopolitan or Seventeen magazine from the aisles of the grocery store, comparing herself to the Hillary Duffs or Kristen Stewarts or the other airbrushed celebrity cover girls. She is every woman who has attended a “fat camp” or a Weight Watchers meeting because she thinks she’s too fat. Eve is every woman who has been tempted by the apple of liposuction, obsessed with what she calls, “a relationship with her stomach.”

In modern society, Eve defines, to be good translates to being thin and perfect. Eve Ensler symbolizes Everywoman, struggling to be “good” in an imperfect world. Perhaps this is what made the play “The Good Body” so appealing to the 70-plus Ithaca College students who attended the showing at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 in Textor 101.

“The Good Body,” directed by freshman Ithaca College drama major Pascale Florestal, can be compared to a non-musical and hour-long rendition of Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango,” as various characters recount their trials with their bodies. The play, a sequel to Eve Ensler’s ever-popular “Vagina Monologues” was smartly written and well performed by a cast of nine freshman Ithaca College students, revealing their struggles with weight and sex through a series of monologues.

Although there weren’t many props or visual action, and a white-board accompanied the found space in a lecture hall, the audience was very responsive to the narrative-style play. Like in the fifteenth century play “Everyman” following a character’s journey to morality, “The Good Body” follows a similar format as the character Eve embodies Everywoman on a journey to acceptance. Along the way, she meets a cast of funny and memorable characters including “Skinny Bitches” Bernice, “Spread” Carmen, “Perfection” Tiffany, “Dyke Fuck You” Dana, “Sex” Carol, “Breasts” Nina,  “The Industry” Isabella and “Jadhi” Priya. The women’s names and stories were written on the classroom’s giant white-boards as each character exited the stage.

Meanwhile, the audience, made up of a demographic of two men to every seven women, seemed very receptive to the stories and themes of “The Good Body.”

Audience members laughed when Jazzmin Bonner’s character Bernice, played a black girl at fat camp, wagging her finger at “skinny bitches” and compared buying plus-sized clothing to buying porn.

Girls held their breath as Kristen Joyce’s character Carmen, a Latino skinny girl obsessed with what she describes as the “spread” between her thighs, said, “All those years I just want to be pretty, Mommy. Why couldn’t you ever see that?”

A few women pulled tissues out of their purses and wiped their tears as Alyssa Stoeckl’s character Nina gave an emotional testimony about what it was like to develop breasts while losing her freedom in the process.

Meanwhile, Director Florestal herself played an Indian Confucius, telling Ort’s character to accept her body because it is her home. Florestal’s character Priya who describes herself as “Jadhi,” the Indian word for fat, said that her husband Kumar loved her body’s oceans and continents. “If you were to lose your ‘Jadhi,’ I would be a refugee,” Florestal described her husband saying.

Following the stories of these women, one learns that one should love their bodies for what they are. However, the superb performance and expression of Megan Ort and the rest of the girls on the cast gave the performance much more resonance with the audience. “The Good Body’s” sad but poignant message, witty monologues and powerful deliverance made the play much more effective and most satisfying for anyone who has ever thought they were fat.

Recycling History

William Hundert (Kevin Kline) may as well be Brutus—a stoic man of morals and virtue whom he describes as “the noblest Roman of them all.” Like Brutus believed in the good of the Roman Empire, Mr. Hundert, a beloved teacher of Classical history at St. Benedict’s School for Boys, is a stoic man who believed in the good of his students.

So when the trouble-making Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), the son of a local senator, enrolls in St. Benedict’s and challenges Mr. Hundert’s belief, the teacher begins his own conspiracy to ensure Sedgewick’s success in the school’s Mr. Julius Caesar competition.

The Emperor’s Club, directed by Michael Hoffman and written by Neil Tolkin, is more than a story of about a teacher and his efforts to change the character his students at a Harry Potter-style Hogwarts. (Mr. Hundert resembles the fair and calculated Professor Minerva McGonagall while the St. Benedict students resemble young wizards, wearing Gryffindor-esqe gold and yellow ties as well as scarlet red blazers and gray slacks.) No, as the movie plays out, one learns bits of philosophy; some things like stupidity, says Mr. Hundert, are destined to last forever.

From St. Benedict’s, one could have been just as easily transported about thirty years earlier to another all boy’s New England-style boarding school such as that illustrated by John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace. Sedgewick Bell might as well be the ever popular-daredevil Phineas, while Mr. Hundert may have been the scholarly best friend Gene Forrester looking back upon his mistakes at his beloved boarding school. The problem with this dichotomy is that the true character of Sedgewick, although handsome and charismatic, is not good, and Mr. Hundert’s actions are not fueled by jealousy, but a rather more altruistic nature.

“Who gives a shit,” lies Sedgewick’s true philosophy. In a world of winning and losing, Sedgewick Bell only cares about winning, no matter what the costs. “Honestly, who out there gives a shit about your principles and your virtues?” Sedgewick asked his teacher Mr. Hundert. “Honestly, look at you. What do you have to show for yourself? I live in the real world where people do what they need to do to get what they want. And if it’s lying and it’s cheating, then so be it.”

Professor Eliis Fowler from The Twilight Zone episode "The Changing of the Guard."

Mr. Hundert, being a Classics professor, knew better than anyone that history was bound to repeat itself. However, at heart, Mr. Hundert is a teacher, like Professor Ellis Fowler featured in The Twilight Zone episode “The Changing of the Guard”— focused on molding young minds, however incorrigible. Like Professor Fowler, Mr. Hundert hoped that he could change all his students including Sedgewick, however, it would take a reunion with his former students to teach Mr. Hundert that it is not the failures, but the successes in his career that determine a man and a teacher.

The Emperor’s Club is not a particularly new or unique story. It is a story that had been told in by Ithaca College teacher and Twlight Zone creator Rod Serling in his 1959 episode “The Changing of the Guard” (only Mr. Serling told the story in 30 minutes while The Emperor’s Club runs about an hour and 50 minutes). It is a story about a group of boys and their power play illustrated in countless books and literature.

While Sedgewick might as well be a primitive leader of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, savagely competing in a jungle for the prestigious title of St. Benedict’s School for Boys’ Mr. Julius Caesar, his followers and competition include Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg), Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta) and Martin Blythe (Paul Dano). While Sedgewick may resemble Jack falling to wickedness while appearing brave and encouraging innumerable pranks even without the help of a conch shell, Martin Blythe appears as Piggy, a studious boy who becomes the sacrificial lamb for everyone.

Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) and his group of "Lost Boys." From left to right, Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta), Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), Louis Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg) and Martin Blythe (Paul Dano).

In director Michael Hoffman’s story The Emperor’s Club, Martin Blythe is the only one who truly grew out of Sedgewick Bell’s Neverland—the true tragic hero. And if anything, Mr. Brutus—“the noblest teacher of them all”—owes the biggest favor to his student, Martin Blythe.