There has been no shortage of must-see performances during the nearly 35-year run of Vassar and New York Stage & Film's Powerhouse Theater. From hosting award-winning plays in their development phase, like "Hamilton," to giving now-acclaimed actors a place to wet their feet, including Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother") and Lilli Stein ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"), Powerhouse continues to live up to its name.
"Powerhouse is the place where you can encounter theater happening almost everywhere on campus," says Ed Cheetham, producing director of Powerhouse Theater at Vassar. "From the Powerhouse main stage to the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, people can find their way into a theatrical experience they won't see duplicated elsewhere."
- Clockwise from top left: Beth Henley, Emily Orling, César Alvarez, Sarah Benson, The Lisps, Mark Brokaw.
This summer offers a curated menu of captivating shows. Workshop performances, which provide the opportunity to share pieces still in development, include standout piece "The Elementary Spacetime Show." In this thought-provoking musical comedy, written by César Alvarez with Emily Orling and directed by Sarah Benson, a teenage girl, Alameda, attempts suicide and finds herself in an absurdist Vaudevillian purgatory set up like a garish game show that she must win in order to truly end her life.
We see the young girl struggle with her own conscience as she meets a cast of colorful characters ranging from French philosopher Albert Camus to an apprehensive mosquito, and other teens like herself in death's waiting room. The piece manages to neither glorify the act nor condemn those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts. Rather, the humorous dialogue and costuming; indie rock soundtrack, featuring songs by The Lisps; and Alameda's honest vulnerability all bring to light the necessity of conversations surrounding teen suicide and the often-taboo darkness afflicting today's youth. In a bold review, the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested "Elementary" could become "'Rent' for the social-media generation.
"Part of what the show does so well is not shy away from the problem, instead taking the crisis that is teen suicide and making it available to the audience in a way that allows us to remain emotionally connected to the character, portraying her dilemma in a sympathetic and noncondescending way," says Johanna Pfaelzer, artistic director of New York Stage and Film, the organization that collaborates with Vassar to create Powerhouse. "Plus, the music is extraordinary."
This season also brings the return of Pulitzer prize-winner Beth Henley to the Powerhouse main stage, whose play "Lightning (or the Unbuttoning)" tells of a young woman living alone in a cabin on a distant high peak who is suddenly confronted by a mysterious traveling salesman trying to sell her a lighting rod during a brewing storm. What ensues is a story of resilience and determination in an unforgiving world.
For Shakespeare enthusiasts, there's a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" at the Environmental Cooperative at Vassar Barns put on by the 50-member Training Company, made up of student writers, directors, and actors who participate in a five-week immersion program. "We always look forward to the work that the Training Company will produce," Cheetham says. "Their energy and vitality is the heart and soul of the season."
"The Elementary Spacetime Show" will be performed at Vassar College's Martel Theater on July 12-14.