As 1500 Meters Above Jack’s Level, written by Federico Leon, begins, the audience views a seemingly familiar scene: a mother and son, with the mother telling her son that he should marry since he is now 35-years-old. However, as the play continues, and the mother never leaves the bathtub, the scene becomes unfamiliar.
Assistant Professor of English in University Theater April Sweeney, who directed the play, said that she wanted to create this deceptive initial familiarity as well as illustrate the production’s contrast between its reality and lyricism. She portrays that tension from the first moment. Her wish of conveying this contrast was one of Sweeney’s reasons for choosing to have the play performed at the boathouse and for using water in the play. The boathouse, as a real, utilitarian building, emphasizes the sense of realism, as does the water, and these elements of the production juxtapose the lyricism of the play and of the simulated bathroom within the boathouse. Professor Sweeney also selected the boathouse for her location because of its proximity to water, which is an essential element of the play – she said, “It would be impossible without water.” The moment she walked into the boathouse, she thought to herself that it was the space she wanted for 1500 Meters.
The performances on October 22 and 23 were the result of much diligence and planning by Sweeney, the cast and the crew. Sweeney initiated the process of proposing that the play be performed in the boathouse last year, organizing the logistics of it, translating the original play from Spanish with American University Professor Brenda Worth. Since the second week of classes this fall, the cast has rehearsed six days a week for about four hours a day.
The production starred Colgate seniors, Michael Piznarski and Octavia Chavez-Richmond, as well as sophomore Melissa Gamez. The production had Visiting Assitant Professor of English in University Theater Simona Giurgea cast as the mother of Gaston, played by Piznarski. Sweeney knew that she could only put on this play with an experienced actress for the mother’s role and she believes that the students learned a lot through working with Giurgea.
Sweeney said of her cast, “I was lucky to find them all,” stating that they impressed her with the amount of effort they put into the performances and the way they balanced their courses with rehearsals.
For Sweeney, “the best part was trying to create and give life to this play with the actors and collectively trying to figure out how to tell the story.”
During the rehearsals, she enjoyed seeing the actors moving forward a little everyday and being pushed further.
Besides the actors, an entire crew helped, with set designer Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, lighting designer Miranda K. Hardy, sound designer Joan Jubett and technical director Joel Morain. Students participated as crew members as well, assisting in the creation of the bathroom where the entire play occurs.
The playwright, Federico Leon, visited campus and spoke on October 25 about his work in general, including 1500 Meters, which is “a portrait of family replacing, reconfiguring, reinventing itself,” as Sweeney’s director’s note describes. Sweeney chose to direct this play not only because she loves it, but also because, after meeting Leon, she read more of his work, including his essays on plays, and the more she read, the more she wanted to put on a production of 1500 Meters. One aspect that Sweeney admires most about the work is its opaqueness; it’s a puzzle and she says, “I love puzzles.”
In the end, Sweeney hopes that the audience felt how viewing a play is an experience in which they are active members and that they left the boathouse provoked and affected enough by the play to ask questions, as well as with an interest in seeing another play.