‘Canon Fire’ takes on controversial issues
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media April 26, 2012 10:18AM
♦ April 27-29
♦ Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth St., Naperville
♦ Tickets, $8-$10
♦ (630) 637-7469
A new play at North Central College takes on topics of gender equality and sexuality.
“Canon Fire” is a composite of feminist re-imaginings of the literary and dramatic canon.
Four performances will be presented at 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28, and at 2 p.m. April 29, in the College’s Meiley-Swallow Hall.
“Canon Fire” was created by Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theater and chairperson of art and theater, along with Chicago playwright Nic Wehrwein. It weaves two short plays by Carolyn Gage and Susan Miller with original monologues about race, gender and sexuality.
In “Louisa May Incest,” Gage imagines a conversation between Louisa May Alcott and her famous “Little Women” character Jo March. It raises historical questions about Alcott’s sexuality as well as her relationship with her father.
In “It’s Our Town, Too,” Miller pays tribute to Thornton Wilder’s moving play “Our Town,” but with a modern twist.
The idea to present this one-act play sprung from her discussions in her classes about the “war on women” she saw in the media, Silkaitis said.
“I’m floored that in this day women still are such second-class citizens,” she said. “I thought, ‘I need to do a play that addresses gay and lesbian issues and feminist issues.’”
She wanted to let her students explore those topics with theater for social change.
“I think that is an important part of our classes,” she said. “I started reading plays and I found two very short one-act plays that I was interested in.”
“Louisa May Incest” “definitely raises questions about Alcott’s sexuality,” she said.
“Louisa May Alcott was a huge women’s rights advocate, and ‘Little Women’ is also listed on the best gay and lesbian novels of all time, which is interesting because she wrote it as a children’s story,” she said.
“’Our Town, Too” is very similar to ‘Our Town,’” she said. “But ‘Our Town’ is a long play. ‘Our Town Too’ captures all of the quaint, small-towness of ‘Our Town,’ but instead of George and Emily, it’s Emily and Elizabeth that fall in love. And that sets in motion this trial, and it ends with a funeral scene just like ‘Our Town’ does. And it does it all in 20 minutes instead of two hours.”
“Canon Fire” is a composite of the arts, Silkaitis said, crafted to facilitate a conversation about our common humanity.
“It’s a multi-media storytelling experience. It’s a multi-media exploration of equality,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do these two one-acts, but honestly they weren’t long enough.”
So she hired Chicago-based acoustic-rock artist Christine Kent to write original music for the show that touches on themes of acceptance and equality.
In addition to the two plays and the original music, the performance will include monologues written by Silkaitis and Wehrwein.
“Hopefully, through this multi-media way, we’re going to have people talk about some of these issues,” she said.
She acknowledges that perhaps the play started because she was angry about social issues, but maintains that it has ended up as a “really beautiful piece telling the stories of common people, small-town people, people you see on the street every day,” she said.
Her student actors, she said, are excited and motivated.
The performance is short, clocking in at just over an hour.
“I’m a big fan of quick and dirty theater,” she said. “I love the idea of people coming in for an hour. Take an hour of your day to see something that is crafted to facilitate conversation. They should be prepared for a quick show, but a moving show.”
Audiences, she said, can expect “to see interesting, innovative performance pieces that weaves together different pieces all having to do with humanity, equality are being presented in order to facilitate conversation so we can get to know each other a little better and get to know the people around us.”