Okay, so I can’t pronounce her name correctly, live on the air, to save me. In fact, I freely admit I’ve NEVER gotten it right. (For the record, it’s “TELL-er-ee EHR-en-dell.”) But Dr. Telory Arendell, Missouri State University Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance, seems to take it in stride. (Or at any rate, she tolerates it amiably!) She is seeing the fruits of her labor—and that of the numerous MSU students involved in the production—on display this weekend as they perform Lanford Wilson’s 1966 play “The Rimers of Eldritch” through Sunday May 5 in Craig Hall Coger Theatre. The production only runs this one weekend, and the play contains strong language and adult themes.
“It is a wonderful play,” says Dr. Arendell. “It’s a difficult play! My students had the most trouble memorizing lines—largely because none of it is sequential. It sort of skips around in time and place and character, and all the rest, right? So you’re here, you’re there, literally in a matter of minutes. So you could say, for instance, that it’s a lighting designer’s nightmare! And our student lighting designer’s done a wonderful job with it. So you can see everybody, even though they may be at opposite ends of the stage at the same time.”
Briefly stated, “The Rimers of Eldritch” depicts the mid-20th century (fictional) Bible Belt town of Eldritch, Missouri, a once prosperous coal-mining community that is in the middle of a decaying death spiral. The local economy has collapsed, the population has dwindled, and those who remain seem unable to deal with the present reality. When a local hermit is found murdered, the townsfolk close ranks, but a lot of questions emerge.
Often, when a playwright creates a “contemporary” play, one can safely assume it takes place in the general time period in which it was written and first performed… well, not this one, with its mosaic of conversations and multiple points of view. Says Dr. Telory Arendell, “It’s a little hard to know with this particular play when exactly it’s set. I think it’s also a question of, ‘Are you in a memory, or are you in the present?’” However, by the end of the play the viewer gets a better understanding of what happened earlier.
But there are nagging questions, as Dr. Arendell admits. “When I first sat down and read the play, I thought, ‘Oh, okay, this is what I understand to have happened.’ But when I laid this all out for my actors at the beginning of the rehearsal process, they said, ‘Wait—what?!’ So I had to keep explaining things, and say, ‘This is why you say this,’ and ‘This is when this happened.’” She also had to make sure her interpretation of the events was the one that prevailed, despite many differing opinions on the part of the student actors.
Dr. Arendell felt vindicated when “Rimers of Eldritch” went before a live audience for the first time on Thursday’s opening night. “These poor students on stage had been doing the same thing for six weeks—and we didn’t have anybody in the audience responding to it.” Despite what might seem to be a confusing narrative, playwright Wilson manages to build suspense throughout the play. There are many dark undertones in the show, but humor emerges as well, especially in the second act. And the opening-night audience of 290 or so audibly reacted. “In the second half, noise from the audience grew and grew, and there was laughter here and gasps, oohs and ahhs there. And it made me feel like I interpreted it right!” Needless to say, having an audience before them was transforming for the student actors as well.
Performances are tonight and Saturday May 3rd and 4th at 7:30pm, and Sunday May 5 at 2:30pm in Coger Theater. Tickets range from $8-$14; call 836-7678 or visit www.missouristatetix.com.