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Dark Waltz

In Performance Reviews on March 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm

A Look into Kaitlin Chisholm’s Interpretation of               “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

The unsuspecting audience member might chuckle through the first half of Kaitlin Chisholm’s senior recital, lulled by its musical introduction (played liltingly on an onstage piano) and its good-natured humor. By the end of the hour, however, Miss Chisholm masterfully carried the audience to the brutal but powerful ending of what recital coach Mr. Radford called “not a feel-good story at all.”

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a short story written by Flannery O’Connor in the 1950’s, is a startling tale that delves into the depths of human depravity. The story recounts the events of a family vacation to Florida through the perspective of the grandmother. The grandmother, both a sympathetic and a despicable character, serves as a commentary on self-righteous people. Miss Chisholm’s portrayal made it clear that this character was not to be respected, even though what the grandmother wanted most was respect. It is her fixation on the supposed refinements of her past that lead to her family’s demise when she insists on going down an abandoned road to find an old house. It is this diversion that leads the family into the path of a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer, who systematically slaughters the whole family, even the grandmother—who is, in fact, his own mother.

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

Miss Chisholm’s stellar characterization defined each character precisely so that there was no confusion as to who was who. She gave every character, from the grandmother to the gasoline station owner, a distinct voice and posture. They were not characters made to be loved as much as they were made to be learned from. As far as characterization goes, Kaitlin Chisholm admits readily that the serial killer, The Misfit, was by far the hardest to portray. She wanted him to come across as a normal person; a very relatable everyman. The last thing she wanted to do was to play him up as the stereotypical villain. His scariest feature had to be his normalcy, because it “makes the evil more evil when it doesn’t seem evil.” The resulting portrayal? An empty-eyed, but unnervingly conversational and truly “normal” sort of villain.

They were not characters made to be loved

They were not characters made to be loved

Several audio and light cues added gravity and interest to the telling. The set consisted of five brightly colored folding chairs arranged in front of a well-worn piano, its front panel removed to leave the hammers exposed. The chairs were rearranged from mimicking car seating to seats at a restaurant and then back to car seating as the story progressed. It became clear that the chairs represented the characters in the story. Kaitlin Chisholm occupied the middle back seat, indicating the grandmother’s place in the car, and referred to the other characters as sitting in the other seats, one per character. She showed the family’s car crashing by knocking over the chairs under blood-red lighting, with only the father’s chair remaining upright as he was the only one not displaced during the crash. As each character died at the hands of The Misfit’s henchman, she placed their collapsed folding chairs into a square bracket of light on the floor. She accompanied the grandmother’s death with a mournful rendition of “The Tennessee Waltz,” exploring the effectiveness of “music not making sense with what happens.” The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The question burning in the audience’s mind was this: “Why this story?” Miss Chisholm was struck by the story’s gruesome, but accurate portrayal of evil. She wanted her audience to leave Performance Hall with the message that Flannery O’Connor set out to communicate: that we all are innately evil, and without the grace of God, a good man would not just be hard, but impossible to find.  

By Emma GallowayIMG_8607

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The Trouble I’ve Seen

In Performance Reviews on February 27, 2013 at 8:12 pm

A Conversation with Meg Jones

          As the lights dimmed in Stratton Hall this past Monday, eager audience members looked toward the stage, waiting for the recital to begin. Much to their surprise, the opening lines were delivered from the back of the theater, sung in a deep and haunting contralto:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow.

            Meg Jones came down the theater aisle in a meditative march, at last ascending the stage before stopping her song and taking the audience on a journey through the nature of human suffering.

Meg Jones: actress / performing artist

Meg Jones: actress / performing artist

            Meg Jones’s senior recital, The Trouble I’ve Seen, interlocks the stories of Job and three characters from the book Witness by Karen Hesse. Meg begins with the first chapter of Job, giving the scriptural account of Job’s incredible loss. Then she takes the audience center stage, where she portrays the interaction of three characters during the terrors brought by the Ku Klux Klan in 1924: Leanora Sutter, an African American girl; Esther Hirsh, a Jewish girl; and Sara Chickering, the woman who offered them both shelter from the Klan. All three experience the pain connected with racial discrimination and violent death. Meg Jones’s recital was no merely entertaining romp, but a deep-delving exploration of faith in the face of extreme suffering.

            I had the remarkable opportunity to interview Meg and ask her a few questions about how her recital came into being. When asked where she got the idea to do a recital centered around the theme of trouble, she said, “I want to do something that has to do with people’s perspective of what suffering is. It morphed from people looking from the outside to the inside and putting…ratings on people’s suffering…and after that I had, like, windows of different people and just different levels of suffering.” The “window” idea came after her coach, Anne Nolan, asked her to find a vehicle (a common thread) that would carry the theme across. Meg was leaving her dorm when she looked out a window in her stairwell, and had the idea to have every character “have a window, and the audience could see through their window…and they saw their suffering…some people’s windows are shattered and old and tattered while other people’s are colorful and beautiful on the outside and there’s dust and stuff on the inside.”

"The Trouble I've Seen"

“The Trouble I’ve Seen”

          While she started with having five separate stories in her recital, including an original composition and cuttings from The Hiding Place, she finally settled on just a cutting from The Witness and cuttings from Job.

          Meg Jones navigated the gripping tale with a commanding storytelling style, embracing both the narration and characterization with practiced precision. She transitioned gracefully from one character to the next, taking a meditative pace through the turns of the story. Her characterizations were nearly flawless: Leanora was sassy and cynical, Esther was innocent and cherubic, and Sara provided a stark adult perspective on the unfolding events. While Meg said that adopting Leanora and Sara came easily, performing Esther, with her muddled syntax and unique accent, was another story altogether.

          “At first I didn’t like her,” she told me, chuckling. “I liked her as a character; I just didn’t like performing her. She was just so hard for me at first. I don’t just have to act like a six-year old, but I have to act like a Jewish six-year old with an accent….I had to listen to some things on YouTube or just different people speaking Yiddish…as their home language, but they’re speaking in English and I wanted that accent of her—but I had to make it a little less mature that the grown-ups sounded….it was hard getting into that, but after a while, it became more natural to be her and then I didn’t hate it as much anymore. She was the most difficult to memorize because of the syntax….But in the end, she was the most enjoyable to perform.”

Senior Project for Performance Studies Degree

Senior Project for Performance Studies Degree

          The recital was not fast-paced, which may have disappointed a few audience members. However, a slow pace was absolutely necessary in order to stay true to the lyricism of the text and the heaviness of the material. The slower pace allowed the audience time to think about the ideas flowing through the narrative and to grasp the depth of what Meg hoped to communicate.

          “I wanted other people to see what our reactions are to other people’s suffering or our own suffering and I wanted them to see it through very real situations….I wanted them to see that even a child can see that the emotions you feel when you’re going through something like that are all human reactions…and knowing that although I’m going through this situation, it sums back up to God, that he is still there—and nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”

by Emma GallowayIMG_8607