Students and community members gathered in Brehmer Theater to watch the opening night performance of Smokefall, an enigmatic comedy-drama play by Noah Haidle, directed by Senior Amanda Kummeth and co-directed by first-year Nate Parkman. Masque and Triangle, the premier student theater group at Colgate, performed this production on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this past weekend. The name of the play comes from a T.S. Eliot poem entitled “Burnt Norton” written in 1935.
Kummeth described the play as “heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time,” which captures the play rather well. The play was marketed as “magical realism with manic vaudeville in a family drama,” and it is certainly a play unlike any other. During the production, fetuses swap philosophy while awaiting their birth, a daughter eats dirt and doesn’t speak, a father is about to drive away and never return and there’s an apple tree growing through the walls of the house. Whipping from astonishing tenderness to profound humor and back again, Smokefall explores the lives of a family in a lyrical treatise on the fragility of life and the power of love.
The play addresses issues of familial conflict, death, the passage of time and a misunderstanding of one’s purpose.
“There were some depressing themes throughout Smokefall, however, the many comedic scenes throughout the play made up for the sad parts,” sophomore Claire Carson said.
Act I is titled “Help Me Remember” and takes place at the family house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, circa 1950. During this act, we are introduced to several generations of an eccentric family, including a character named Beauty, played by first-year Abby Stanton, who eats tree bark, paint, newspapers and dirt. She does not speak for most of the play either.
A character named Footnote, played by sophomore Steven DeVellis, offers insights into Beauty’s diet, while wandering the stage throughout the first act providing numbered annotations on the family as well. Footnote informs the audience that Beauty’s grandfather, known as the Colonel (played by senior Michael DiGiorgio): “he has become convinced that his entire life is another person’s dream.” The Colonel’s mind and body are beginning to betray him, as often his lines sound like they do not logically follow one another.
Violet, who is played by senior Maria Vorobyeva, is pregnant with twins throughout the first two acts, which later inspires Daniel’s (her husband, played by senior Ben Hack) exit. Inside Violet’s womb is where Act II takes place, titled “Where We’ll Never Grow Old.” Two fetuses names Samuel and Johnny, played by Hack and DeVellis, create a lively comedy act in which the twins ponder the meaning or use of life through every outlet, from Shakespeare to theology.
After only one of the twins survives its birth, the play fasts forward many years to display the former Fetus Two, now named Samuel and played by DeVellis, surprising his father, Johnny (played by DiGiorgio) for his birthday. The strained relationship between father and son is clear, but becomes less melancholy after a surprise visitor, Beauty, pops in. Ninety-five years old, and not looking more than a day over 16, Beauty claims that she does not age; perhaps we should all consider a diet of dirt and a cup of paint!
Misery and loss pervade the final act of the play, titled “The Attempt Is How We Live,” which takes place in the same house, present day. Johnny is controlled by the idea that one cannot outrun their lineage, and fights often with his son Samuel.
“It was fun to be a part of Smokefall. It was a rollercoaster ride, because sometimes I would go out there [on stage] and would have to keep from laughing, and other times I would have to keep from crying – I didn’t know how to handle it,” DeVellis said.
DeVellis also remarked that he was proud of his role as one of the twins in Violet’s womb.
“I was a good fetus,” he added.
All in all, Smokefall is a play that is surreal in nature and incorporates everything from Foucault to Hamlet’s soliloquies. The play’s magical-realism coupled with relatable human heartbreak and lyrical existentialism certainly make for an interesting and thought-provoking experience.
Contact Caylea Barone at [email protected]