'The Water Engine' prepares for campus debut
By KRISTIN FITZPATRICK
Would industry do anything to squash an invention that could potentially ruin it? This is just one of the themes proposed by David Mamet in his play "The Water Engine," presented by the film, television and theatre (FTT) department this week.
Set in the background of the 1930's Chicago World's Fair and the celebration of "The Century of Progress," the play presents the story of a young woman named Lang, played by senior Erin Luttderbach, who invents an engine that uses water for its fuel. The oil industry discovers this and attempts to buy her plans for the engine.
When Lang refuses, the industrialists show their determination to stop her by trashing her laboratory and destroying her prototype. She soon finds herself racing against businessmen, mobsters and lawyers in an attempt to save her invention and her life. As the story unfolds, she discovers she is not the only person in danger.
In an effort to keep her design, her life and her loved ones safe, she must find a way to beat the oil industry and to keep her love of invention alive.
This production of "The Water Engine" is the directorial debut of senior FTT major Elaine Bonifield. Bonifield was chosen by the theater committee to direct because of her excellence in several theater classes and because of the success of "Three Tall Women," a laboratory theater production last season.
When the committee asked her to submit several titles of plays she wanted to direct, "The Water Engine" was at the top of her list.
"I was really drawn to the themes presented by Mamet and the many different ways that this play can be presented," she said.
The play encompasses many different elements from a traditional main stage production, each of which presented a specific challenge for Bonifield. The cast is composed of 10 actors — five men and five women — who Bonifield thought provided a nice balance for the show. However, the play uses 40 different characters, so each actor must work to develop four or five distinct personalities on stage.
"I think that that was the most challenging portion for the actors," said Bonifield. "We stressed this a lot in rehearsal. It's difficult enough to develop one character for a show. It's even harder to come up with four."
Another challenge for the set designer and the costumer was that all the costume changes take place on stage and that the actors seldom leave the stage. Kevin Dreyer, who designed the set, had the challenge of making a nonspecific set that suggests a locale and also allows enough room for the actors to be on stage during the entirety of the production.
Dreyer also designed a set that would accommodate Bonifield's directing style for the play. Because the play was originally written as a radio show, Mamet gives directors the freedom to play with this throughout the production.
"In the director's notes, Mamet states that the show can be run as a radio show, a play or a combination of the two," said Bonifield. Bonifield chose the latter for the direction of her show, which was also the way the original Broadway production was run. She believes it allows the audience to use more of its imagination, but still retains enough action to hold its interest.
Costumer Jane Paunicka shopped at Chicago's vintage clothing stores and borrowed from the University's Casady Costume collection for the simple, yet complete outfits that allow fast costume changes. The changes must also be done rather inconspicuously so that attention is not taken away from the action onstage. Paunicka decided to dress most of the actors with a base costume that could have items added or subtracted to suggest a change in character.
The lighting concept was designed by senior Patrick Caraher, who does a brilliant job of changing the mood of the story from the darkness of the Chicago streets to the cheer of the World's Fair. Caraher has emerged as one of the most experienced students in technical theater this season. When on break from school, Caraher works at the Westhampton Beach Performing Art Center in New York.
Overall, Bonifield is pleased with her work. Although she has done some directing in the past, she has never done a complete production on her own.
"I never realized how each little decision affects the whole show," said Bonifield. She is pleased by how smoothly the production went and how helpful everyone else was. She said she has surmounted the challenge presented before her and is eager to tackle more.
Bonifield anticipates that this show will touch the audience in some way. "I hope that the audience walks away from this with a sense of the many themes that are presented in this show, especially the theme that `all people are connected' which is stated in the play several times," added Bonifield.
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, November 17, 1999