Sometimes it takes more than two to tango.
Eight actors playing 20 roles swung into Parker Theatre for the department’s Blackbox Production of “Couples.” A series of vignettes written by playwright Rich Orloff, the completely student-run show ran from Friday, May 3 to Sunday, May 5, with evening and matinee performances.
“Couples” featured couples of varying sexual orientations in an effort to prove that “all relationships are fundamentally the same — two people working together to face the world,” Director Christine Vuolo, a fourth-year theater major, said.
One directorial decision that was made involved taking a particular vignette, “Matterhorn,” and breaking it up into a scene featuring three different couples — one gay, one lesbian and one straight.
Vuolo said that one of her goals was to develop the characters as “complex, real and relatable,” and not portray any of them as stereotypes.
“What I especially liked about the script was its treatment of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation,” she said. “In ‘Couples,’ I worked to magnify the similarities between people of different genders and sexual orientations.”
The show’s ability to break through stereotypes and write characters with depth was one of its most unique qualities, Assistant Director Sara Lyons said.
During rehearsals, Orloff visited the cast to discuss the play’s content. Lyons said Orloff has the ability to accurately portray people, even in situations he doesn’t intimately understand on the surface, because he treats every character first and foremost as a human being.
“This show is unique in content because it’s…one of the first shows to become popular of this nature, to feature strong women and gay couples that don’t stick out like sore thumbs,” she said. “In much of media today, we notice and applaud strong women in theater, T.V. and movies. Here though, it’s difficult to notice them because they exist in a world I’d like to exist in, where writing strong women isn’t strange. And the de-emphasis on the otherness we see as a society to love pinning to gay couples is nonexistent in Rich’s writing.”
One of the ways the cast learned to physically trust each other in order to fully develop their characters and relationships was to incorporate swing dance into their rehearsals and performances.. A member of the New Paltz Swing Club, Lyons also served as the cast’s swing coach. The dance was performed and taught before each show with the audience in an effort to engage them in the experience.
Actress and fourth-year theater major Kat Gonzalez said learning and performing swing was very appropriate because it “is very much a couples dance, in that it is social between the leader and the follower and relies on trusting each other, much like relationships do.”
Of the show’s many social accomplishments, one of the most rewarding components of working on “Couples,” Vuolo said, was directing a cast who developed such a strong bond in such a short amount of rehearsal time.
“It’s rare to form a company that has such instant chemistry,” Vuolo said. “During the third or fourth rehearsal I decided to end the day by having everyone state their highest and lowest points of the day. One of the actors said his highest point of the day was rehearsal because of how close they had all become. Hearing him say that could not have made me happier because one of my biggest goals for the process was to create a supportive, caring and fun environment for everyone. I could hardly believe we accomplished that in less than one week.”