By Adam Vincent
Villanova Student Musical Theater premiered Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party” on Tuesday.The show, based on the 1928 poem, captures a night of reckless indulgence, revenge and betrayal.
Freshman Jaclyn Siegel opens the production as Queenie, a beautiful dancer unsatisfied by her lovers. She soon meets Burrs, played by sophomore Patrick Walsh, a vaudevillian clown with a taste for both women and violence.
Queenie and Burrs live happily for a while, but Queenie soon feels the relationship has lost its spark.
In order to provoke Burrs’s unpredictable temper, which initially attracted her, Queenie plans to publically humiliate him at a party she persuades him to throw.
Later that night, guests begin to arrive. One is Queenie’s friend Kate, played by senior Sarah Moya, who seeks to seduce Burrs. Queenie, however, eyes Kate’s date, a suave Mr. Black, played by senior Rob Ryan.
As the night progresses, spirits flow and tempers flare in a desperate bid for power. Stakes rise as an increasingly drug-fueled haze propels the night past fistfights and orgies to a terrible, inevitable end.
The intensely sexual and dramatic nature of “The Wild Party” represents a stark departure from the lighter comedic fare that has characterized VSMT in past years. While the shift was challenging, the cast was ready and eager to embrace it.
“I knew we could do it. I knew we had the talent,” Moya said. “We were all ready for a change, so we all jumped into this wanting to really push ourselves and learn.”
“This is probably the most talented, willing-to-work group of people I’ve been a part of,” Justin Walsh added.
Director Justin Walsh ’07 was tasked with bringing “The Wild Party” to the Villanova stage.
Despite the darkness at the core of the show, he wanted to bring out the redeeming humanity in the story.
“I wanted to create characters we could love,” Justin Walsh said. “But I wanted to leave it open-ended. I’ve put pieces of things that people could like in each of the four main characters… so you can pick and root for them.”
Thus began a tricky balancing act for Walsh and his cast. “I wanted to take some of the things that were darker and make them a little bit lighter, especially in the beginning,” he said. “Some of the darker themes we’ve taken to make a little darker to balance that out.
For example, the vaudeville performance at the beginning of the show is a sex scene in the script.
“It’s meant to be very, very dark and very, very sexual,” Justin Walsh explained. “I didn’t want to throw that at the audience, especially Villanova audiences, right off the bat.”
Other scenes, however, remained challenging for the actors. “There are some parts that are really sexually intense,” Ryan explained. “It’s a lot to handle, especially with your friends. Sometimes when you do it with a complete stranger you can put all that aside but when you do it with your friends, you try not to laugh. ”
“It was a lot of adjusting, a lot of awkward laughter, not being sure how to go,” Moya added. “But it was worth it when we had these moments that were like, ‘this is real, this is serious and we’re really grounded in something special and new.’”
Achieving those moments was sometimes difficult for the actors.
“There’s a lot of things in [the show] that you don’t really want to feel,” Siegel shared. “It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago I was finally able to let everything go and to be [Queenie].”
Justin Walsh sees the sexuality, while controversial, as an integral part of the show.
“We haven’t really toned down the sexuality,” he said. “I think one of the common mistakes with this show is that the sexuality is taken as sexuality too often.
There are moments of beauty and freedom in some of the sexuality that I’ve tried to focus on—–less gratuitous and more moments of sex as love.”
The show is not only a thematic departure for VSMT, but a technical departure as well.
“It’s a very different experience from other shows I’ve worked backstage on,” explained assistant director sophomore Casey Berner. “We’re trying to show the party from all angles at the same time, which is hard when you only have one angle to work with.”
In order to mimic the natural flow of a party, the cast is largely responsible for moving the sets and props.
“It’s not like someone walked into your party, moved your furniture for you and left,” Berner said. “It’s more about capturing reality and capturing every angle of reality.”
Despite its grounding in reality, the show still features an eclectic cast.
“Everyone at the party is their own weird character,” Pat Walsh said. “There’s a boxer, there are twin brothers who write musicals and hug a lot, there’s a dancer without a tongue—–it’s the weirdest group of people, like a Tim Burton film or something.”
“It’s classy-ratty twenties,” Berner quipped.
Ultimately, however, the cast is eager for their work to pay off.
“I’m excited to see the reaction,” Ryan added. “Usually you can tell you’ve done a good job by how many laughs you get. Now we’re going to have to wait until afterwards to see how it affects the audience.”
Also assisting behind the scenes is music director Christopher Ertelt, assistant music director Jen Buono, and assistant stage manager Austin Wild.
“The Wild Party” is playing nightly at 8 p.m. through Sunday evening. There will also be a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket table on the top floor of the Connelly Center.