School of Theatre confronts domestic violence in latest production

Difficult content like verbal, physical and sexual abuse is at the center of Andrew Lippa’s adaptation of “The Wild Party,” but the Penn State School of Theatre has embraced the storytelling challenge and is presenting the musical through Nov. 14 at the Playhouse Theatre.

Directed by Alison Morooney, musical theatre graduate student, the show tells the story of Queenie, played by Maryrose Brendel, and Burrs, played by Daniel Tracht, whose volatile and dangerous relationship results in Queenie taking a stand to free herself from the violence.

To help the actors prepare for the difficult roles, Erik Raymond Johnson and Gwendolyn Walker served as intimacy coaches, which Morooney said resulted in additional training and rehearsal time.

“The theatre industry is still creating ways to tell these kinds of stories more safely, and because the methods are so new, staging these kinds of scenes in this manner takes much longer than any other kind of scene,” Morooney said.

As production on the musical began, dealing with a tough subject matter like intimate partner violence highlighted the importance of portraying the inherent complexities, according to Morooney.

“It is my desire to center the experience on the survivor,” said Morooney, who is directing her first full-length play at Penn State. “Even if there are moments that are hard to watch or hard for an audience to agree with, the survivor is the person who should get the last word.”

School of Theatre Director Rick Lombardo said the school consistently aims to educate and raise consciousness around challenging social issues and while material may be difficult for the artists and the audience, exploring the issues in the safety of a theatre can lead to meaningful engagement.

“The questions ‘why do this play?’ and ‘why now?’ are always part of our thinking,” Lombardo said. “We feel a deep responsibility to demonstrate the unique power theatre has to challenge assumptions, create empathy and open minds.”

Two School of Theatre alumni, Dan Texeira, playing Phil, and Graham Hancock, playing Oscar, will return to campus for the show, which has its final preview on Nov. 4 with opening night to follow on Nov. 5. To view ticket prices and show times, please visit the Penn State Centre Stage website.