Politically Charged Theatre

Thomas Emerson

Miscommunication is a problem that plagues everyone at one time or another.

How fitting that Steven Cronin’s production of “The Rough Drafts” dared the University community to reflect upon this very issue. Early last week, I received an e-mail advertising the show, telling me I’d be challenged by Cronin’s production.

As a critic, I’m always suspicious of such promises, because usually they’re as hollow as the Tin Man’s chest — after banging on them, I’m usually inclined to declare “What an echo!”

But to my surprise, I found a heart. A real, ticking heart that beat out a message we need to hear.

A message about communication. It was never directly stated. But it appeared everywhere.

In the first scene, the inner voices of two lovers battled, revealing the explosive subtext beneath an apparently innocuous exchange.

A monologue seemingly about impatience was more about egocentrism coloring attitudes and blocking communication; an anorexic girl was challenged by her inner self to end deceptive words and state the truth; a couple investigated the negative connotations we carelessly project when we talk about sex.

Scene by scene, the cast grappled with the problems of language, of interpretation, of subtext, reminding us that communicating well is not as simple as it seems.

Cronin’s casting, for the most part, was impeccable. Nothing helps communication more than a correctly-selected megaphone.

Particularly engaging were Stephanie Boyk’s hilariously self-absorbed student and Lisa DelVecchio’s wonderfully subtle session with sex words in the library. But I applaud the entire cast for believing in Mr. Cronin’s vision and helping him execute it.

But before I’m accused of gushing like Old Faithful, let me confess that towards the evening’s end, the production seemed to run out of steam like a Little Engine Who Couldn’t.

For instance, skits mocking drunks are so overdone that they’re anything but challenging.

And students do not need to be informed that they are dummies, sitting on the lap of a university-sponsored puppeteer. “But, Thomas,” the intellectual set will scream, “it was brilliant social satire!” Not quite.

Brilliant satire is innovative and daring, like 007 on a good day. This satire was predictable (“All of the university organizations are run by the same people.” Yawn.), and it shut down potential communication by transforming a challenging message into ridicule.

I’d also argue with the content of the “Atheist’s Monologue,” well-played by Val Eichelberger. Initially, and intriguingly, Eichelberger held a copy of “Waiting for Godot.” In “Godot” — a perfect reference for discussing atheism — God is an empty promise, something we wait for but never find.

But Cronin’s text spoke of atheism in terms of not being able to prove God, of believing in God less than everyone else, a position Beckett and most atheists would reject. “Nothing is certain,” Beckett writes. He rejects God because every convention in life is absurd, not because he can’t prove God in the lab.

(And speaking of absurd, during “The Rain,” I began to wonder if the scene had been mistitled.

Perhaps a better name would have been “The Chinese Water Torture,” and perhaps a better directorial move would have been to cut the scene by half.)

I wholeheartedly applaud Cronin for having the vision and the gumption to write an original work and place it before the Villanova community.

It’s a vision we don’t find often at the University, a place where many students find more pleasure in downloading online papers than in dedicating time to creatively conveying original thought.

A place where many pay no attention to the fine art of communication and fail to consider the implications of what they choose to say.

CBS television anchor Edward R. Murrow once jokingly remarked, “People say conversation is a lost art; how often I have wished it were.”

But I’m afraid that his joke is completely apropos: we seem to have indeed lost the art of conversation, the art of using words appropriately — the art of communication.

Thanks to Cronin and “The Rough Drafts” for bringing it to our attention.