By Julia Cinquegrani ’16, Campus Life Editor
Next weekend, the theatre, dance and film department’s (TDF) production of Sincerity Forever will premiere in the Green Room Theatre. The play addresses issues of race, religion, spirituality, faith, and knowledge.
The play, written by Mac Wellman in 1990, is a comedy grappling with difficult social issues. It centers on teenagers from the fictitious town of Hillsbottom, who navigate their relationships with each other by asking complex questions about the nature of God and the place of the individual in the universe, while simultaneously dealing with more commonplace issues, such as first crushes.
Jon Foley Sherman, director and visiting assistant professor of theatre, proposed this show to members of the TDF department during the Summer and held auditions for it in the beginning of November. The cast began read-throughs of the play before Winter break and have been holding daily rehearsals since the Spring semester began.
Since its publishing, Sincerity Forever has attracted controversy because of its treatment of contemporary American social issues, especially its portrayal of Ku Klux Klan members and Jesus Christ. At its heart, however, the play addresses America’s complex relationship with religion and race, interweaving humor to create a thought-provoking and poignant comedy.
“The play is hilarious,” Foley Sherman said. “We’ve been laughing so much in rehearsals, but, if you listen to the ideas, they are very important questions, some of which humans have been struggling with forever, like if God has a plan for us.”
In addition to the unconventionality of some of Sincerity Forever’s themes, the play’s set is also unusual. The central piece of the set is the front half of a real car, which Robert Marenick, resident technical director, found in a salvage yard in Red Lion, Penn. The salvage yard agreed to cut the car in half and deliver it to F&M. Most of the play’s action takes place between actors sitting in the car, and the rest of the set, designed by John Whiting, resident scenic and lighting director, focuses around the car.
“We wanted the cast to be close to the audience,” Foley Sherman said. “We thought that if we could get a real car it would feel so much better for everybody, and the actors can really move around with the constraints of the car. It seemed like a great piece to have physically for the play.”
Sincerity Forever does not have traditional lead characters; instead, most scenes take place between two characters. One of these actors is L’Oreal Lampley ’15, who plays Jesus. She said the prevalence of these small scenes have made character development especially important.
“I don’t think the process of learning about your character ever stops — it’s forever,” Lampley said. “Every time you look at the character you’re looking at it with fresh eyes. It’s mentally draining, especially because character development is one of the tougher things you have to do. You’re trying to figure out the mind of somebody else who doesn’t even exist.”
Lampley finished memorizing her lines for the play during Winter break, but is still developing and revising her character at every rehearsal.
“I’m still learning my character, and I still feel like there are moments when I can do things differently every time I perform,” Lampley said. “I always have to remember my character and who I am and what I represent. The speeches that every character has are all very different and important, and all relay particular messages that are valuable.”
Although Lampley acted in plays and musicals in high school, this is her first time performing at F&M. She was initially hesitant in rehearsals and did not know most of her fellow cast members when they began working on the play, but, over time, the cast has formed its own community.
“There’s always a lot of laughing at rehearsal, and that’s one thing I love about it,” Lampley said. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something right. The feeling I get from every practice makes me think the cast has done a really good job of supporting each other. I can be comfortable around them and we feed off each other’s energy.”
In addition to the complicated themes the play explores, the dialogue itself is often very complex. As a result, Foley Sherman has spent a long time working with the actors to ensure they understand the greater implications of each piece of text, as well as mastering the linguistics of their lines.
“Most of the work I have been doing is close work on scenes with two people, so each scene has had a moment where there has been a breakthrough for one or both of the actors,” Foley Sherman said. “Every actor has had a moment where they got all the punctuation of the lines right, and meaning and emotions flow through, and relationships with the other characters fall into place.”
With the opening of Sincerity Forever drawing near, Lampley said she is excited to perform, but wants to make sure she concentrates on perfecting her character in the mean time.
“I’m a little nervous,” Lampley said. “My character is literally Jesus, and that’s a lot of pressure. I want to make sure that during the play L’Oreal sits down and the audience can see that I am not this person. It’s Jesus talking, not me. If you can tell that it’s me, I’m not doing my job right.”
Foley Sherman is also looking forward to the play’s opening and to seeing audiences’ reactions to the performances.
“I’m really excited for the play to exist in front of an audience,” Foley Sherman said. “The actors are really polishing the show and putting on the final touches. I know this play very well, but I am on the edge of my seat sometimes watching the actors because I cannot believe what they are saying, and I am looking forward to other people having that experience.”
Although the play deals with religious and race issues that are potentially divisive, Foley Sherman views the play’s treatment of the social issues as thought-provoking, not insulting.
“I don’t think the play is offensive to Christians,” Foley Sherman said. “It’s offensive to people who don’t want to think, which is a larger proportion of the population than we probably want to admit. But if you are willing to consider what underpins your assumptions, then this is not an offensive play; it is a challenging play.
“I’m drawn to projects that are outside the mainstream,” he continued. “I do think it’s a really important play to do. If we pull it off, it will be absolutely hilarious, in an, ‘It’s funny because it’s true’ kind of way.”
Sincerity Forever will be performed Feb. 13, 14, 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 16 at 2:00 p.m. in the Green Room Theatre.
Sophomore Julia Cinquegrani is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.