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Bethel students take on modern drama in Pinter’s "Moonlight"

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Harold Pinter is not your typical playwright, which means Bethel College’s fall production of Pinter’s Moonlight is not your typical drama.

To add to the challenge for the student actors, a last-minute and unavoidable change in casting has also meant a change from a full-scale production to a reading of the play.

“I believe it is important to honor and celebrate the efforts of the cast, many of whom have families and friends who have planned to travel to campus to enjoy this show,” said Suzanna Mathews, who is directing her first play at Bethel as a sabbatical replacement this semester for John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts. “Oliver Whitney, a freshman from Peabody and a member of the crew, has graciously agreed to step into the role previously held by another student

“This is a sizable role and one that cannot be memorized in such a short period of time,” Mathews continued. “For the sake of unity, the whole cast will take up their scripts and bring their characters to life with script in hand. This will alter the style of the performance, but I am confident that the audience will be challenged and entertained just as they would be with a traditional interpretation of the play.”

Born in 1930, English playwright Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. “Pinteresque” has become a dictionary definition for a drama written in elusive, sometimes comic language but generating an atmosphere of menace and alienation.

This “deliberate vagueness” makes it hard to provide a plot summary for Moonlight. The drama could be described as either a “dark comedy with drama” or a “drama with pieces of comedy.” The plot centers around an unlikable patriarch named Andy who is on his deathbed and the other members of the family anticipating his death.

Caitlin Buerge, a senior from Kansas City, Mo., has the part of Bridget, Andy’s daughter who may or may not be dead. Buerge has been in a show every semester that she has been on campus and describes her participation in drama at Bethel as “an up and down experience.” During her freshman year, Bethel dropped its theater major as part of an academic program review.

Despite the removal of the major, however, Buerge has been pleased with Bethel’s loyalty to its drama program. “I have felt privileged and pleased to be in every show that I have done at Bethel,” she says.

While Moonlight does “chronicle a journey,” Buerge says, Pinter does not follow traditional plot lines. “He leaves a lot of the interpretation up to the audience or receiver. Nothing is explicit in his writing [but there is] a lot that is hidden. A lot is about what is not said.”

Pinter’s style manifests through the pauses – now known as “the Pinter Pause” – that he intentionally writes in for the actors, Buerge says. The pauses “provide meaning” and “challenge [the actor] to make meaning out of nothing – there is always something behind that nothing.”

Even though much of a Pinter drama requires individual interpretation, there is a unifying theme of “alienation,” Buerge adds. The dying and unfaithful patriarch, Andy; his wife Bel living within the dysfunctional marriage; two estranged sons who do not even come to the deathbed; the daughter, Bridget, who seems to be either dead or severely detached from the family – for these alienated family members there is “no reality other than the certainty of [Andy’s] death,” Buerge says.

Just as it may be difficult for the audience to grasp meaning from Pinter’s work, it is an equal battle for the actors, Buerge says, adding that she has had to struggle to find a personal connection to this show when compared to other productions she has done, including Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Tim Robbins’ adaptation of Dead Man Walking, and the musical Brigadoon. But she believes that Pinter “means it [to be] a journey.”

And audiences must be prepared to enter actively into the journey as well. Buerge emphasizes that this show is about communication – not only between cast members, but between the cast and the audience. While recognizing the unconventionality of the play, Buerge applauds Bethel’s willingness to tackle modern drama: “[Moonlight] won’t ‘sit well’ with the audience. It will push and prod.”

Matthews, instructor of communication arts, says directing Moonlight has been easy because “the actors come ready, eager, willing and with open minds.”

Open minds will also be required of audiences who come to see Moonlight. Matthews echoes Buerge, saying, “This drama makes people uncomfortable. It’s anti-sentimentalist. People like resolutions, but life doesn’t give us nice, neat, tidy resolutions. . . [Moonlight] will not give an emotional catharsis, but will demand that the audience engage and be intellectual. You cannot be passive.”

Adam Larson, sophomore from Lena, Ill., plays the dying patriarch Andy. Moonlight “is the most unique play I’ve ever done,” he says. “There are so many ways to interpret this drama. You [the audience] have to be okay with not having all the problems answered.”

Moonlight will be performed in Krehbiel Auditorium Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or by calling (316) 284-5205. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and non-Bethel students, $1 for Bethel students for the Friday and Saturday performances and free for Bethel students for the Thursday performance only. The play contains adult content and is not recommended for young children.

In addition to Buerge and Larson, the cast for Moonlight includes freshman Clint Harris, Manhattan; sophomores Kelly Reed, Edinburg, Texas, and Aimee Siebert, Topeka; junior Rodney Wren, Newton; and senior Shawn Rath, Moundridge.

Crew for Moonlight includes freshmen Sennai Fisheha, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Amy Volweider, Haven, and Oliver Whitney, Peabody; junior Andrea Kaufman, Harrisburg, S.D.; and seniors Megan Abrahams, Canton, and Samantha Naylor, Florence.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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