FAIRFIELD, CT – WOMAN AND SCARECROW, Theatre Fairfield‘s annual Independent Project, is sponsored by the Jamie Hulley Arts Foundation. The Independent Project is an annual University tradition in which theatre students have two weeks to produce a full-scale production — from start to finish — entirely on their own and without faculty assistance. Theatre Fairfield is the resident theatre company of Fairfield University that is made up of students, faculty and guest artists. Virtual audience members can witness performances of WOMAN AND SCARECROW via YouTube through January 31.
The play was written by one of Ireland’s most acclaimed living playwrights., Marina Carr, and the Theatre Fairfield production features Fairfield University students Tracy Ferguson ’22, Kierstin Jones ’21, Kierstin Bjork ’21, and guest artist Liam Bray and is directed by Park Lytle ’21.
THE NEW YORK TIMES calls this piece a “blistering beauty of a play that rages with regret and pitch-black humor at the wasted years of a misspent life.” The play contains the themes of indecision, fear, spirituality, death and what lies beyond. The work is described as “A Faustian tale enriched with Carr’s poetic dialogue and gothic atmosphere, Woman and Scarecrow tells the story of Woman, whose stained past has made her bitter at the world. As she lies patiently on her deathbed, a ghostly entity looms in her wardrobe, waiting to take her. Her only companion is Scarecrow, a spiritually connected being that has accompanied Woman her entire life and now sits with her until the end. As Woman and Scarecrow look back at their shared history, and bicker over the many choices they have made, they slowly come to terms with their identities.”
Certainly virtual theatre has become the norm during this pandemic and Theatre Fairfield decided to take “some cues from film to create an immersive online theatre experience.” The actors first performed the play together on Zoom in front of green screens and then the talented director post-edited their recordings, adding some impressive backgrounds and the sound effects. Because the actors are not in the usual Zoom boxes, the final product very often gives the illusion that the performers are acting in the same space. More importantly, they often appear to be superimposed over each other, sometimes larger than their scene partner, offering another layer to the visual. While Woman and Scarecrow write a final letter, the text appears above their head and there is one scene that gives new meaning to a “split screen.” There is also an almost jarring juxtaposition of very old music and loud contemporary tunes that worked very well.
The Woman is played by Tracy Ferguson, and hers is a stunning performance. Ms. Ferguson is a junior Theatre major with a minor in Educational Studies. Previous credits with Theatre Fairfield include TITUS ANDRONICUS, “LOVE AND IMAGINATION, and Second Woman in PHILIP GLASS BUYS A LOAF OF BREAD. Most recently, Tracy directed “The Competent Heart” as part of Theatre Fairfield’s Fall 2020 production of “Director’s Cut.”
The role of Scarecrow is played by Kierstin Jones, a senior Theatre major with a minor in Biochemistry, who also serves as the dramaturg of the play. This actress gave an impressive performance in this spectral role. Previous credits with Theatre Fairfield include “Undress Me Clarence,” TITUS ANDRONICUS, and “Short Term Affairs.” She was also the Stage Manager for last year’s Independent Project, RABBIT HOLE and Theatre Fairfield’s production of FORTINBRAS.
Auntie Ah is played by Kiersten Bjork. Kiersten is a senior Theatre and English double major with minors in Environmental Studies and Classical Studies. She made the most of the role of the stern aunt of Woman, made up to look much older than her years. Previous credits with Theatre Fairfield include TITUS ANDRONICUS, AUTHENTICITY and THE SPITFIRE GRILL. She has also worked as Master Carpenter on productions such as “Silent Sky” and FORTINBRAS, and most recently directed “Hot Wax” as part of Theatre Fairfield’s Fall 2020 production of “Director’s Cut.”
The role of Him is played by guest artist Liam Bray, making his debut with Theatre Fairfield as a guest artist. He makes the most of this villainous role, the unfaithful husband of the Woman.
“I have seen other artists approach this new medium of theatre with the mindset that we should try our hardest to imitate what makes live theatre unique and attempt to recreate the magic of live performance despite the limitations and barriers. This is a way of thinking I’ve chosen to reject. Rather than attempting to replicate the power of an in-person performance, I decided to embrace the magic that can exist within a virtual one.” – Park Lytle, Co-Producer and Director
Park Lytle is both the director and co-producer of the production, with Ms. Jones as the other co-producer. In his Director’s Note subtitled “Not preservation, but reimagination,” he encourages his audiences to think about what has truly scared us this past year, “whether it be the pandemic, political landscape, racial inequality, or environmental catastrophes. Your fear is valid, and it is ok to be scared; this is a place where you don’t have to be strong or brave. All I ask is that once you recognize your fear, that you start to think about what steps can be taken so that this fear does not hold power over our lives and choices.”
Mr. Lytle is a senior Economics major with a Theatre minor. He also impressively edited the performances into their final forms. His previous credits with Theatre Fairfield include TITUS ANDRONICUS, FORTINBRAS, and Christopher Boone in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” among others. He also worked as Master Electrician for productions such as “Silent Sky” and THE SPITFIRE GRILL, and most recently, he directed “Contact” as part of Theatre Fairfield’s Fall 2020 production of “Director’s Cut.” Megan Dana serves as the stage manager and Shannon Whelan is the front of house manager.
Hair, makeup, and costume designer was done by Julianna Gentile; the otherworldly makeup reminds us of the fleeting nature of the characters. Julianna is a junior Math major with a minor in Computer Science. Her previous credits with Theatre Fairfield include working as Props Master for THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and as Makeup Designer for FORTINBRAS.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, they are still available for purchase through their website: theatre-fairfield.org
WOMAN AND SCARECROW, which is presented with one ten minute intermission, will be performed Jan. 30 at 2pm and 8pm, and Jan. 31 at 2pm. All photography, audio/video recording and screenshots are strictly prohibited during the performances. Theatre Fairfield’s Independent Project is sponsored by the Jamie Hulley Arts Foundation.
Nancy Sasso Janis has been writing theatre reviews since 2012 as a way to support local theatre venues. She posts reviews of well over 100 productions in a normal year. In 2016, she became a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. She continues to contribute theatre news, previews, and audition notices to local Patch sites. Reviews of all levels of theatrical productions are posted on Naugatuck Patch and the Patch sites closest to the venue. Follow the reviewer on her Facebook pages Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and on Twitter @nancysjanis417 Check out the CCC Facebook page.