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The Mass Media

The Poor House: Definitely Found Lacking …

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The Poor House: Definitely Found Lacking …

In reading the title of this article, not much more can be said about a play that ran for roughly two and a half hours during which the audience displayed confusion at the indigestible plot they were forced to swallow. The work is an adaptation by Louis E. Roberts of the novel Misericordia by Don Benito Perez-Galdos, exploring the lives of the homeless beggars populating the streets of Madrid. In this play, the poor can become powerful, and the proud made penitent.

Roberts, a Professor Emeritus, founder and former chairman of the Theatre Arts Department at UMB, has enjoyed a reputation as a well-known playwright and extensive experience within the professional sphere of the theater and the arts. Roberts was awarded a plaque in a reception following the play, honoring him for his many years of dedication to UMB students.

The Poor House opened with the light shining down upon the daunting dome of the beggar Pulido (Spencer Henderson), as he solemnly states, “Who remembers the Feast of San Jose today? In this miserable world, even the saints in heaven don’t do for men what they used to…” His imposing visage made for an ambitious beginning that deteriorated slowly and painfully into a series of unfocused forays into obscurity as the actors meditated upon the values of poverty and dignity. Although admirable in its attempt to tackle such themes, it is bogged down by its own philosophy and unclear just what point this play trying to make unless one reads the program.

Our focal point is Nina (Bridget Shaughnessy), who lies to her prideful employer, Dona Paca (Lea DeGloria), about how she earns her income. Not from the fictitious father Don Romualdo (Greg Fournier), like she claims, but begging outside the Church of San Sebastian with her companion, the blind prophet-like Almudena (Paul Norville), and various other beggars.

To admit where she makes her money would be to shame the pitiful, patronizing Dona Paca, yet continuing the lie is unbearable. She sustains hope with a belief in God, juggling as much as she can, wheeling and dealing whenever possible to support Dona Paca’s feckless daughter, Obdulia (Amber Jean Kerner) and her indigent lover Frasquito Ponte (Jorge Fuentes). Meanwhile, she must take play up to Carlso Moreno Trujillo (Eric Whitner).

Between the overheated auditorium, incomprehensible dialogue, and monotonous guitar music, this play’s saving graces were the strength of its cast and the clever set, designed by Ron Nash and put together by students in the space of a week. The actors, enjoyable and wholeheartedly enthusiastic, made the best of their situation in spite of their confusion as to the weighty meanings of the play as well when I asked. They were able to carry the brunt of the dialogue and work with it despite some uncertainty on their part as to the ideas behind the text.

The set was a work in itself, made up of two levels. Dona Paca’s house old and new house(s) made up the 2nd floor, as did Obdulia’s house, sitting opposite hers. In a unique little twist, former’s house is actually a rotating platform, light enough for one person to move and contains a hidden door for actors to exit without having to use the stairs leading down to the first floor. Between these two houses sits the façade of San Sebastian Church where the beggars wait to extract their alms from attendees, like the miserly Carlos Moreno Trujillo.

The overall effort of the actors and the skill behind the set combine to bring the viewers’ attention spans back to play even if they can’t follow the plot, giving hope and anticipation as to what next year’s play will bring.

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.