DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – A backyard swimming pool without a fence is an attractive nuisance, ordinances say.
In the play “WROL (Without Rule of Law),” five eighth graders get into something akin to that – a basement-like space that someone is using to dwell.
The place is their object of mystery, myth and “truths” that no one can exactly put a finger on.
The five are drawn there, like five curious adolescent cats.
Two of the eighth graders are in the survivalist mode.
One of their friends is a survivor, period, as she and her mother try to stay one step ahead of a father the girl calls “psycho.”
It’s a garrulous, quarrelsome group of one boy and four girls hell bent on kicking around definitively indefinite pointers on doom.
The group populates the play “WROL (Without Rule of Law),” in which playwright Michaela Jeffery bends minds with a darkly playful sense of humor and a proficiency for puzzlement.
The dense concept play is being presented for three more performances by St. Norbert College Theatre Studies.
The stage of Webb Theatre in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts is transformed into a spooky haunt with a pile of bones, hints of a resting spot, cans of food, lighting by a single lamp, slabs for a floor that include one with a lion’s head drawn on it and with no real entrance from the outside. One by one, the friends have climbed through a ground-level window, stepped down to a workbench and then to part of the floor. Near the bench is a large storage cabinet padlock-and-chained shut.
So many questions, so many questions.
Two of the girls are full of answers. Maureen and Jo are proponents of preparedness. Jo is seen in video with fuzzy sound stocking up necessities as part of what she calls “The Eighth Grade Prepper” that has the motto, “Come prepared to get prepared.”
It seems from other fuzzy-sounding videos that some of the preparedness included setting off a false alarm in school that required apologies that were skirted by twisting definitions.
Along with so many, so many questions, so many, so many takes on philosophies found in today’s fringes are woven through what the characters say.
It’s all intellectually lively, and the cast members leap into this kaleidoscope of the mind, in this case the young, formative mind.
One character has a cutting sense of humor, finding the doom-goomers “a bunch of weirdos who couldn’t cut it in the real world.”
Another character finds true gloom: “All the people I know are tired and sad.”
Through the expertise of director Stephen Rupsch, the players – Ava Baenen, Fiona Laffey, Riley Schwahn, Andrea Waschbisch and Daphne Johnson – team in animated rushes of give-and-take among the characters. The scene-setting of scenographer April Beiswenger helps stoke the fascination they seem to take in their characters, leading to excellent, energy-filled performances.
Still, the play is a toughie. The ideas can be conundrums and unsettling – further perplexed by juvenilia.
Created is a place only plays can take one with theater’s illusion of flesh-and-blood reality.
And then the adventure-of-the-mind play ends with a question left open for the playgoer to answer.
Running time: One hour, 22 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 7-9
Creative: Playwright – Michaela Jeffery; director Stephen Rupsch; scenographer – April Beiswenger; technical director – Corey Pinchart; assistant technical director – Paul Heim; operations director – Paul Mashl; stage manager – KaCie Ley; assistant stage manager – Jacinta Maslanka; sound board operator – Valerie Cohen; paint charge – Maddy Kuehl; graphic designer – Maddy Brisbane; production assistants – Alonzo Torres, Rita Hamm, Natalie Elfner, Alyssa Brugger
Maureen – Ava Baenen
Robbie – Fiona Laffey
Sarah – Riley Schwahn
Vic – Andrea Waschbisch
Jo – Daphne Johnson
THE VENUE: The 190-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.
THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee of the airline. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had many friends in the greater Green Bay community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.