Surprise! It’s a play not put on by theater students.
Sword fights, falling in love all of a sudden, and an unexpected ending: G.K. Chesterton’s play “The Surprise” has all the elements to delight audiences and make them think.
Independent students will present “The Surprise” this weekend in Mauck Dormitory. Showings of the 80-minute play are Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. It’s the story of an author who struggles with the fact that he has created characters, whom he loves, but is frustrated that they cannot be autonomous.
“I think it’s neat that it’s not a theater department show, or Shakespeare in the Arb, because that shows some drive right there,” stage manager junior Tova Forman said. “It’s unlikely.”
The germ of the idea was freshman Seth Winter’s, the vice president of the G.K. Chesterton Society. Over Christmas Break, he considered putting on the play since his schedule was not too heavy. But Winter is the ideas man, and he said he is grateful that Forman and junior Rebecca Carlson, who plays Princess Christina, came on board to actualize the play, from stage-managing to gathering costumes.
Getting the actors together was a piecemeal process that happened primarily through word-of-mouth. Seven actors comprise the cast, with junior Karen Fuchs on trumpet, Forman as stage manager, and help from senior Nikolai Dignoti.
The play has a range of students: four freshmen, a sophomore, and two juniors.
“We’ve got some quirky-in-a-good-way people,” Winter said. “All of us are really quirky people.”
Quirky people for quirky, Chestertonian characters.
“Chesterton is such a fantastic writer, so to hear his voice through all the characters is a fun time,” freshman Gabriel Meyers, who plays Oliver Olivarez said.
Winter said the ending is off-the-wall and will leave people wondering, what happened? At first, Forman, who was reading a Google Books preview with pages missing, said she wasn’t sure if she actually reached the end or if Google had lifted out another page.
Carlson had a similar experience.
“I read it for the first time at the read-through with the cast, and I read it and said, ‘Oh, that changes things!’ I’ll have to go back and reread the beginning now,” Carlson said. “But I think it makes sense.”
Forman said the story’s confusion can be endearing.
“I love and hate Chesterton’s works because they confuse me, which is quite good,” Forman said. “If he confuses me, he often does so to put me in my place, which is relaxing, because I keep on trying to understand everything about the humor, and then he confuses me, and I appreciate that.”
Forman said that given the other things cast members need to memorize and no credits incentivizing them, the question arises: “Why on earth did we put it on?” Her answer is that it’s for their love of Chesterton, and with a fun and energetic group. As it’s a play about artistry that involves putting artistry in, it also makes her think about what she’s doing.
“I’m kind of shocked that we tried to do this, but it’s coming together and I think it’s so neat that we’re doing this without the theater department or any credit,” Forman said.
Carlson works for the theater department, spending a lot of time there. She said that she and the theater department agree that there should be as much theater on campus as humanly possible — so long as it doesn’t cause conflicts.
For “The Surprise,” that meant scheduling rehearsals that weren’t at the same time as the “The Italian Straw Hat,” in which fellow cast-member Gabriel Meyers has a role, or Tower Dancers, which Carlson stage directed.
According to Forman, Chesterton can balance humor and profundity: “He’s very good at being serious and funny at the same time, because they’re not opposites for him.”
“The Surprise” has philosophical themes for the philosophically inclined, and, as Forman put it, “frothy fun, whimsical wit” for those who wish to be delighted by imaginative love stories, sword fights, and word play in a medieval setting. The themes presented in the play even fit the religious themes of this weekend: Palm Sunday.
Forman, still chewing on the ending, said that she would love to talk about the play afterward.
“Theater, music, and art exhibits, and all of those sorts things that are, strictly speaking, optional unless you’re in a particular class, are really worthwhile,” Carlson said, “even though they take time away from homework and ‘serious academic disciplines.’”
The event is not ticketed, and first come, first seated.