Feb. 16, 2007
University Theatres Presents World Premiere Of "Versailles" March 1-10
University Theatres Mainstage will present the world premiere of "Versailles," an ambitious collaborative collage that imagines a day in the extravagant life of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. March 2, 3 and 7-10, and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, March 4.
The production was conceived and assembled by prominent director David Schweizer. "Versailles" is this season's Partnership in the Arts project, which each year brings an accomplished theater professional or team of professionals to the UI to develop new work in collaboration with UI students, faculty and staff. One of the purposes of Partnership in the Arts is to provide an opportunity to create bold experimental works, or theater projects of such scope and ambition that they would be impossible to undertake in a commercial theater setting.
"Versailles" certainly fulfills that aim. The production integrates the writing of more than a dozen historical and contemporary playwrights, including five Iowa Playwrights Workshop graduate students, Obie Award-winning UI alumnus Rinde Eckert, gay rights activist Tim Miller, Richard Kramer ("Queer as Folk," "Judging Amy," "thirtysomething," "The Paper Chase," etc.), performance artist Mike Albo, CINE Award winner Anton Dudley, actor/librettist Philip Littell and James Magruder (Broadway's "Triumph of Love").
The acting ensemble portrays more than 50 characters, ranging from members of the Versailles court and even its fountains, to Robin Leach, Charlie Rose, Nancy Mitford, Jack and Jackie Kennedy, and Adolf Hitler.
Schweizer, who splits time between New York and Los Angeles, has directed 17 productions Off-Broadway, notably Rinde Eckert's Obie-winning "And God Created Great Whales" and other productions at venues including Joseph Papp's Public Theater, the New York Theatre Workshop and Playwrights Horizons.
He describes "Versailles" as -- not a history lesson -- but the fantasies of a young boy in Baltimore: "As a child I spent a lot of time in bed recuperating from various illnesses which were considered fairly serious at the time, and I became a voracious early reader," he explains. "For some reason I was particularly attached to two slim gold-leafed volumes from my grandmother's library called 'Old Court Life in France.'
"I think I can safely say that these absurdly romantic accounts of royal intrigues and love affairs started the engine going inside my fevered brain that would result in a lifetime of theater work. And I think that the work I love was ordained back then, when I was seduced by the idea of creating an alternate world. Why worry about being stuck in your bed when the Court of Versailles was waiting just by opening a book? And not only that -- the essence of the Court of Versailles was about LIFE as a PERFORMANCE!"
Louis XIV created Versailles to attract, seduce and co-opt his possible rivals, and divert the attention of hostile factions in his realm -- to subvert them with an irresistibly decadent life of fantasy and pomp and indulgence where he could literally keep an eye on them all.
This particular day in the life of the Sun King is repeatedly interrupted for side trips to other time zones and realities, including the American myth of the Kennedys' "Camelot."
"The elaborate rituals of everyday life at Versailles made life itself into a piece of PERFORMANCE ART," Schweizer asserts. "The intellectual, political, creative energies of the most powerful nation in the world became explosively confined to a series of rooms. Real life had become 'smoke and mirrors'-- literally. The most famous room in Versailles is 'Le Salon des Glaces'-- the Hall of Mirrors. Something inside me has always yearned to evoke this world of life as theater IN the theater itself.
"I imagined a theater event in which all the conflicting colors and tones of this complex environment might be touched on -- and so I invited a large, wildly diverse group of playwrights to RESPOND to Versailles -- to write a vignette or short play on some aspect that intrigued them. I did not necessarily instruct as to what I NEEDED for the larger piece. I wanted to be surprised, as I had always been surprised by the world of Versailles.
"When the plays began to arrive and they were as varied as I had hoped, I was thrilled. Here were the makings of a true theatrical COLLAGE-- a collection of scenes, moments, images -- from the overtly comical, even GOOFY, to the haunted and the elegiac. And deep within the prism of these often conflicting images would lie the evanescent truth of VERSAILLES, always an illusion, even when it was real."
Artistic contributors of "Versailles" include assistant directors Rachel Edwards Harvith and Sean Paul Bryan; dramaturges Jessica Dart, Art Borecca, Brennan Gerard and James Magruder; set designer William Moser; costume designer Loyce Arthur; lighting designer Ed McCarthy; sound designer Patrick Ashcraft; and choreographers Rachelle Palnick Tsachor and Dance Department faculty member George de la Pena.
This production includes material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts at 319-335-2700 for additional information.
Tickets -- $17; UI student and youth $8; senior citizen $12 -- are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.
Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
Tickets may be ordered online 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu.
Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: email@example.com.
The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.
MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013; firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.