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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Sit Down and Watch This!” An Interview with Henry Santiago

The surest sign that a university department is growing is that it engages more students in more projects. This semester, the Division of Theatre Arts and Communications is putting on not one, but three plays, each involving a separate cast and crew. “It’s hard work,” says Ron Nash, the division chair – who, in overseeing the three plays, directs, designs and builds the set – with the help of his students. “The kids are fabulous, and they’re all contributing a lot of hard work,” he says, admiringly. Shouldering the greatest part of this work are the student directors, who sculpt the play with and without Ron’s presence.

In the past two weeks, we’ve spoken to students working on two of the three plays – Kate Kelly, student director of “Trifles,” and Cailin O’Connor, student director for “The Incident at Vichy.” This week we speak with Henry Santiago, who, in addition to student directing “The Jewish Wife,” has also been involved in innumerable theater productions on and off campus.

” ‘The Jewish Wife’ is basically a monologue, followed by a conversation,” Henry explains. It’s the shortest of the three plays, but by no means trifling. It’s short, yes, but in its brief span it demands attention – and reflection – from the audience. The titular wife rehearses leaving her husband, but then must actually confront him. Her reasons for leaving, however, are complicated, and neither party is entirely guilt-free – and the end result is an indictment of their circumstances, not their character.

Like “The Incident at Vichy,” “The Jewish Wife” is linked with the Holocaust. But whereas “Vichy” is set in the mid-forties, “Wife” occurs a decade earlier, when Hitler’s shadow was only just darkening the European horizon.

Actors Laura McKenna and Arielle Goldman capture the sense of foreboding exquisitely. “At one point,” Henry exclaims, “I hauled Ron into our rehearsal. ‘Ron, you’ve got to see this,’ I said. ‘Don’t interrupt, just shut up, sit down and watch!'” (Another sign a department is flourishing: students and professors talk freely, rather than formally.)

Like many students, Laura MacKenna has tackled her role with aplomb. She did research at the Holocaust Museum to more fully understand the unfolding events and the psychological changes that people in Hitler’s Germany underwent. “There’s an excitement to acting,” she says, “since it lets you step outside of yourself for a little while.” But in exploring her role as Judith, she noted, “It also makes you realize how similar we all are. Everyone has been lonely, or been shunned at some time.”

No one needs to fear being shunned after this play, however. Henry admires the theater program at UMB. “Diane [Almeida] is like a second mom,” he says. “We have great professors with great expectations, and they build up a very tight working relationship. (Sign number three!)

In fact, Henry chose the UMass Boston program over its better-known cousin at UMass Amherst. “It’s closer to home,” he notes. “Financially, you get your money’s worth at UMass Boston. And we’ve got just as good theater.” He does say that he’d like to see more courses offered every semester, not merely listed in the catalog.

There’s a bright future for hard-working students in theater. Having received an Associate Degree in business administration, Henry is already applying to graduate school (everywhere from Boston University and Tufts to Florida State, where he has relatives), and eventually wants to combine his degrees in theater and business and manage his own production company. “I would love to do Spanish theater, Latino theater,” he says. “My favorite playwrights are Lorca – number one of all time – Calderon and Cervantes.” Next semester, as a matter of fact, Henry hopes to direct a production in joint effort with the Spanish department.

Which is the best sign a university is thriving: when different departments start working together to complete projects – to the benefit of all.

Next week, we talk with the technical staff who build the set, hang the lights, and costume the twenty-eight actors in all three plays. “The Incident at Vichy,” “Trifles” and “The Jewish Wife” open November 29 at the McCormack Theater. See ya there!

“The Jewish Wife”:

Cast and Crew

Assistant Director Henry Santiago

Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Furst

Fritz Arielle Goldman

Judith Laura McKenna