A Look Into “EUGENIA”

Transgender issues may be a hot topic on campus, but they are nothing new, as the Theatre Arts Department reminds us with the play “EUGENIA.”

Written by playwright Lorae Parry, “EUGENIA” is a gender-bending play that is set in two time periods, 1916 and modern day New Zealand. It addresses the issues of gender roles and sexuality, which some say makes it controversial. The production has left a huge impression on those who participated in it.

According to Parry’s note in the play’s program, “EUGENIA” was inspired by the real life stories of several women who lived their lives as men, particularly Eugenia Falleni, and Brandon Teena, “whose brutal murder in 1993 was a horrific example of the hate crimes which continue today.”

Parry states that as she began writing the play that year, she thought to herself “how much has changed?”

Parry notes that while the Eugenia of the play could be perceived and categorized in many ways, she deliberately attempted to blur those boundaries.

Research Collages and Sketches for Eugenia (Photos provided by Rachel Townsend).

Research Collages and Sketches for Eugenia (Photos provided by Rachel Townsend).

“EUGENIA” jumps back and forth between two time periods with the recapitulation of Eugenia’s life, as the modern day setting takes place at a rehearsal for a school play about Eugenia’s life. For this reason, each performer played at least two roles, one in the past and one of the modern day characters.

Genevieve Bozek, who played the roles Eugenia Martelli in the past, and Georgina Matheson during the present, said she was both surprised and excited the  play was picked – surprised because she had never heard of it before but excited because she thought the play was gutsy and different.

“The subject material was different from what the department would normally do,” she said.

Eugenia’s character is a “passing women” who marries a women named Violet without revealing her true identity. In the play “EUGENIA” is referred to as a “house divided,” and is put to death for the murder of Violet, a crime she did not commit.

Bozek said the play evoked a lot of feelings from her because the issues it addresses are very prevalent, especially for younger viewers. One of the most important messages the play communicates, she said, is that “sometimes there’s gray areas. We may be straight, gay, not sure, or we’re not even any of those things. Things can’t always be labeled.”

Anita Gonzalez, associate professor of theatre arts, directed, cast and developed the content for the play. Gonzalez said she wanted to cast students who would be able to transform and were flexible enough for the rehearsals, although it was for a short time period. The actors rehearsed about 33 hours a week.

Gonzalez said students are the “backbone” of the productions because they are involved in almost every aspect, from conceptualizing custom designs, building the sets, running the lights, organizing activities and everything else associated with a show’s production. She said the students are very much involved in production as the process runs as a production lab would.  All of the actors have training and craft in acting, most being theatre arts and performance majors. They applied the techniques that they learned in class to their work on stage.

“Faculty, we consider ourselves roles models,” Gonzalez said. “We guide the students in their work.”

The play also involved a kiss and some sexual content between the characters Eugenia and Violet.

Loren Moslin, who played the roles of Violet Donovan in the past and Iris Thompson during the present, said she was freaked out at first about having to kiss a girl in front of an audience, but that it was a matter of making herself comfortable before doing that. She and Bozek requested two hours out of one of their rehearsals with Gonzalez, without the rest of the cast so they could get comfortable with each other.

“After a while it became normal,” Moslin said.  “You have to think, this is Violet. This is who she is, who she loves, and I’m going to love that person too.”

Gonzalez said that her approach to directing implied sexual content was to treat the scenes as if they were dances where every movement is specified.

“That way the actors understand the scenes as a physical controlled encounter designed for dramatic purposes,” Gonzalez said.

The actors then are free to add in their emotional content to make the scenes work.

Stephan Kitsakos, Lecturer/Asst. Chair at the Department of Theatre Arts was in charge of the musical composition for the play. He said although there have not been any other productions besides “EUGENIA”  that dealt with gender-identity issues specifically, the Theatre Arts Department has produced a number of plays that have posed questions and explored ideas about characters who have not lived their lives in hetero-normativity, and the prevailing and often oppressive culture that has caused much pain and persecution for those persons of homosexual orientation.

“As our teachers like to say,” Bozek said, “acting is a really big process. Me becoming Eugenia was a process of the whole rehearsal period.”

Tanique Williams

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