SDA show plays with post-modernist themes, relies on interpretation

Lilach Dekel-Avneri, the show’s director, wants the play to rely on each audience member’s interpretation as there are no set characters or plot (Photo courtesy of Craig Schwartz/School of Dramatic Arts)

“Time and Place: Here and now, in our collective consciousness.”

This statement is boldly written in the playbill of the School of Dramatic Arts’ latest production, “Amsterdam.” Though this short declaration is meant to contextualize the show’s setting, it also accurately promotes the post-modernist critical approach and vision of director Lilach Dekel-Avneri. 

“Amsterdam” was originally written by Maya Arad Yasur, and the premise follows a pregnant Israeli woman and her relationship to a mysterious gas bill from 1944. But according to Dekel-Avneri, however, the plot of the show is amorphous and much less important than the individual interpretation each audience member draws from the performance. 

“This text is deconstructing the stories and rebuilding them differently,” Dekel-Avneri said. “The most important thing is what is going on here and now in the performance. The energy between the performers themselves, the energy between the performance and the audience. Meaning is being created by transferring from the performance text to the audience’s mind. The meaning is in the middle. There is no stated meaning that you have to get.”

The show, held in the Scene Dock Theatre, was performed on a catwalk-like stage. There were no assigned characters, as each person in the cast was part of a larger chorus that presented each scene.

“You’re really an ensemble member. You don’t have a specific character or anything like that,” said cast member Brittany Dassa, a senior majoring in theatre. “So you’re on stage, totally vulnerable and just needing to be fully present and reacting to whatever’s given to you. So every time we do the show it’s a little bit different, which makes it kind of really magical because you never know what’s gonna happen.”

According to cast member Brett Morachnick, the uniqueness of this show compared to other modern plays is what intrigued the cast. 

“When we first received the scripts over summer, I fell in love with it and knew I had to do it,” said Morachnick, a sophomore majoring in theatre. “It’s so different. It’s unlike any other show I’ve been in before. The script was entirely bullet points and there were no assigned roles, and I thought that was so cool.”

Instead of a structured story, the two-hour performance follows a chain of visual images that range from a solo drag performance by Morachnick to members of the cast wrapped in flags and laying still on the floor. These images use a combination of song, setting, background and props prompting a critical reflection on a multitude of social issues like gender identity, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. 

Dassa said that one of the most personal and powerful scenes is when the entire cast rocks miniature light fixtures and sings a lullaby tune. 

“With the thought of immigration and refugees, there are so many people that get taken away from their children and lose their children in war, and I think that image is touching and it hurts and has so many things to it,” Dassa said.

The audience engagement at the show is something to remember. In one scene, the cast pulls a couple of people from the audience to dance with them. In another scene, the cast hands out sharpies and asks for audience members to write on the performers’ arms. According to Dekel-Avneri, the use of spectators is very deliberate.

In one scene, cast members give the audience sharpies so they can write on the performers’ arms as shown by Francesca Jacke (left) and Jacob Litvack (right). (Photo courtesy of Craig Schwartz/School of Dramatic Arts)

“It was important for me that the audience would be a part of the performance — not just sit and watch it like there’s a fourth wall,” Dekel-Avneri said. “While you are being watched also by other audience members, you become a part of the scenery because they see you.”

The performance held Oct. 12 saw generally favorable reactions from the audience, with dispersed cheers throughout the act. One of the spectators, Michaela Skaribas, a freshman majoring in narrative studies, said the show’s strength was its creative entrepreneurship. 

“I thought it was very well done,” Skaribas said. “It was really wonderful to see what they did. Particularly the parts that weren’t in the script, like the lip-syncing and the songs; I thought it really added to the performance.”

The show has three more performances scheduled on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20.