Kentucky Cycle shows the universality of struggle

On Thursday, the USC School of Dramatic Arts will present one of the most iconic American plays of the 20th century, The Kentucky Cycle. Written by Robert Schenkkan in 1991, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a series of nine one-acts that span roughly two centuries of the American narrative. This play was no small feat for SDA — the duration is estimated to be roughly six hours, which will be split into a two-part performance.

Schenkkan initially began his career as an actor, acquiring roles in acclaimed series like Star Trek: The Next Generation. He discovered his passion for writing much later in his career, eventually receiving a sizable grant from the Kennedy Center for New American Plays to produce The Kentucky Cycle.

The play follows three fictional families, one black, one white and one Native American. Suffice it to say, the play reveals the diversity of families that settled in America from 1775 to 1975 by not only following their struggles, but also reminding viewers of the issues that bound them together. Though these families each possess their own conflicts, Schenkkan sought to streamline familial tension among the three races.

The play take place throughout history, as the characters face issues such as tribal conflict, the Civil War, poverty, unemployment and even murder. Though these are largely disparate issues, Schenkkan illustrates that each family sought one ultimate goal — the American Dream. In essence, the story underscores the hardship associated with forging a new life in unchartered land.

The production consists of a large cast — 29 student actors play nearly 80 different roles throughout the play. The students, who are part of the School of Dramatic Arts’ theater program, were challenged to play vastly different roles throughout the play.

Stephanie Shroyer, the associate artistic director of the School of Dramatic Arts, directed the play. An actress, choreographer and director, Shroyer possessed the experience necessary to bring the complex, nuanced play to life.

“[The BFA students] had to use their left brain just to sort through the sheer size of the piece, and then the intuitive side, the right brain, to call upon a tremendous emotional and psychological connection to 200 years of a very difficult and tumultuous history in the United States, particularly that of Kentucky,” Shroyer said of her experience working on this production.

After many hours of rehearsal from cast and production team,  the first half of The Kentucky Cycle will debut at the McClintock Theatre on Thursday at 7 p.m., followed by the second half on Friday at 7 p.m. Other showings will take place throughout the weekend and into Tuesday.

“Just to try to take on a piece of this size during school is monumental and worth the six weeks that we spent on it in order to accomplish getting through it,” Shroyer said. “Hopefully there will be a sense of intellectual stimulation for all involved.”