Last weekend, October 28-October 30, Lawrence University’s Department of Theater Arts presented the play The alive, written by Anthony Clarvoe and directed by drama teacher Timothy X. Troy. The co-directors of the production were Emilia Ciotti Hernandez and the second Isabel Osterhus.
Set in London in 1665, the characters in the play are in the midst of the bubonic plague, a deadly infection that has spread rapidly, killing millions of Europeans. According to the production brochure, The alive was written in 1993 during the HIV and AIDS crisis, but since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 the performance now has added meaning to its audience.
Centered around a group of characters affected by the bubonic plague in different ways, The alive offers a glimpse of a world before modern medicine. Mrs. Sarah Chandler, played by second grade Hannah Amell, is unable to see her family after her husband dies of an illness and her children are locked up with her sister’s family. Left with no one and nowhere to go, Sarah is forced to care for the sick and dying as a nurse.
Played by junior Alec Welhouse, Dr. Edward Harman, one of the few doctors left in London during the plague, works with Sarah and tends to her patients. With many Londoners dead or escaping to the countryside, feelings of isolation, loneliness and hopelessness manifest with Sarah and Dr. Harman’s relationship. Besides these separation issues, the two characters also constantly risk their lives while tending to the sick, eventually killing Dr. Harman from an intense case of the plague.
While Sarah and Dr. Harman share the perspective of medical workers during the bubonic plague, aspects of politics and government intervention are also seen in the characters of Sir John Lawrence, played by sophomore Jon Wilker, and Lord Brounker, played by freshman Ella Rose Schaefer. Essentially left to rule the City of London on his own with little money and resources, Sir John faces difficulties in controlling the spread of the disease. Lord Brounker, who works with the King of England, frequently has disagreements with Sir John, ignoring any appeals from the character.
While the audience is encapsulated by the struggles of commoners, as well as politicians, another character focuses on the death tolls of the plague. Played by junior Madeline Guest, Mr John Graunt uses new statistics methodologies to predict how and where the plague will spread in and around London. Although frequently cast aside, Sir John employs Mr. Graunt to examine the figures affected by the plague, lending a faint hope to the plot of the play, as if the schemes and predictions calculated by Mr. Graunt could save even the smallest part of London. of the disease.
Each performer in the play gave a realistic emotional performance of their character, touching the hearts of audience members who are experiencing a pandemic themselves. The acting, however, wasn’t the production’s only fascinating experience. From beautifully crafted 1600s-style costumes, with heavy fabrics, feathers, large skirts and other attention to detail, to intense and dramatic lighting, the performance of the Department of The alive dug deep into issues of social isolation, loss, politics and the general theme of survival.
While every element of the performance, from acting to dancing and movement, lighting, costume and sound collided to create a realistic period piece with elements of modern day issues, nothing beats the final scene of the performance. After spending the entire room social distancing from each other, Mr. Graunt reaches out to take Sarah’s hand, an act of hope and resilience during a time of despair. Much, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be learned from this production of The alive, but above all, the play asks the audience how they will take care of each other during such a dark time.