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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“And Here I Am Again”: An Interview with Cailin O’Connor

This semester, the Drama Workshop consists of three short plays, providing students in the theater program with more opportunity for experience and leadership. This week we speak with Cailin O’Connor, assistant director for the longest of the three workshop productions, Arthur Miller’s “The Incident at Vichy,” which puts her in charge of nearly twenty students and an hour-long play.

Like Kate Kelly (assistant director for “Trifles,” with whom we spoke last issue), Cailin brings with her a wealth of theatrical experience. She has acted, been a stage manager, taught speech in England, and even written a play, “Candlesticks and Juggling Tricks,” which was produced at UMB several years ago. “The Incident at Vichy” is her first experience directing, but, judging from her success so far, won’t be her last.

The “Vichy” of the title is Vichy, France, the capital during the Nazi occupation. “During the Nazi regime,” Cailin explains, “over 70,000 Jews were deported. At one point, there were 1,400 children which neither France nor Germany wanted. So they were gassed to death.” Making it worse is the fact that those in charge were not Nazis, but French collaborators eager to please.

Onto a claustrophobically small stage – a fourteen-foot square – a dozen prisoners are brought, and their number only diminishes over the course of the play. They react in the pained, frightened, fractured way humans are wont to. They resist their circumstances through denial, through ignorance, and – only rarely – through actions. The most prominent characters are Leduc (played by Tina Kim), the silent Old Jew (Ilar Koci), and von Berg, an Austrian aristocrat mistakenly identified (played by Juan Garcia).

The multi-ethnic casting is deliberate, since, as Cailin suggests, the play resonates more loudly today than perhaps when it was written. “It’s directly paralleled to Muslim persecution in America [following September 11],” she explains. “The characters aren’t trying to save each other, but convince the others of their own point of view.” The audience may wait and wait for a consensus opinion to emerge, but it never will. Similarly, there is no happy ending, because matters are still today only being resolved. It is a play of hard circumstances, hard truth, and hard decisions.

“It’s a very violent play,” Cailin explains. “Not in actions, but in words.” The Major, for example, never strikes the Old Jew – but he does call him a dog, a savage, an animal. With a large cast and demanding roles – and a slice of history removed from contemporary experience – it presents a challenge for the actors. But Cailin is hopeful in her expectations. “These are eighteen very distinct characters,” she says. “Everyone contributes a part, and ultimately gives over to the art.”

“In the past four years,” she adds, “the theater department has grown considerably.” But getting non-theater arts students involved is tricky. Many join the Drama Workshop because it has a reputation as an easy A. “When done properly, theatre looks easy,” Cailin says. “And maybe that’s what gives people that misconception. People take the discovery of a planet fifty light-years away more seriously than they take theater. Good theater is hard discipline; you can’t walk in having a bad day, because your character is supposed to be feeling great. But if it’s not hard, what’s the point?”

“The Incident at Vichy” opens alongside “Trifles” and “The Jewish Wife” on November 29. Tickets will be on sale at the McCormack Theater.

Next week: We talk with Henry Santiago, student director of “The Jewish Wife.”

The Incident At Vichy – Cast and Crew

Assistant Director: Cailin O’Connor

Assistant Stage Manager: Keri

Lebeau: Jenn Shea

Bayard: Rachel Melat

Marchand: Ben Loring

Police Guard: Alberto Nova

Monceau: Colin Driscoll

Gypsy: Lexi Nolin

Waiter: Khalid Hill

Boy: Rocky Graziano

Major: Joe White

First Detective: Jacqui La Lond

Old Jew: Ilar Koci

Second Detective: Brigid Battell

Leduc: Tina Kim

Police Captain:

Danielle Brennan

Von Berg: Juan Garcia

Professor Hoffmann: Susanna Azkunaga

Ferrand: Helene Conlin