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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

‘Curse’ debunks American dream

The characters of Sam Shepard’s 1978 play “Curse of the Starving Class” enter wearing perfunctory clothing – jeans, sweatshirts, a dressing gown. They march across a dilapidated set, missing a doorway and pieces of the walls. But beyond the chipping plaster are visions of a brighter, broader country.This is the driving force behind “Curse.” Each character’s dreams are glimpsed between the cracks in the walls, only to be snatched away a second later. The characters pursue their ideal lives with ferocious intent, but little effect. This is their curse: to try, and try, and try, but never to succeed.

Guilford’s theatre studies department presented “Curse of the Starving Class” on April 2 in Sternberger Auditorium. The play is one of Shepard’s “family” works, but those expecting gentle humor and Aesopian morals were disappointed: intermission hadn’t even arrived before 13-year-old Emma (first-year Elizabeth Wray) was arrested for “possession of firearms, malicious vandalism, breaking and entering, assault, and violation of equestrian regulations.”

Emma is apprehended on her way to Baja. Mexico, within Shepard’s play, functions as one of a thousand imagined Edens, a place where the seeker can finally escape from the tangled knot of their family and call themselves happy.

“Experiencing Shepard’s play for the first time – it caught me completely off-guard,” said Colin Cranford ’09, a former theatre studies major. “I would definitely consider (the main theme) to be the collapse of the American dream. That, and the outside world coming in. We kept on seeing their life creeping into their own house, and them trying to escape it – but they couldn’t.”

“Ultimately, it’s about a family that’s struggling, financially and emotionally, stuck in rural America, and trying to deal with encroaching suburban sprawl, which I think is very familiar for a lot of people,” said director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies Tim Hanna.

Of the many characters grasping at greatness, senior Lucas Campbell stands out as Weston, the perennially intoxicated patriarch given to extensive, meandering monologues addressed, by turns, to a lamb, his errant offspring, and the inside of the refrigerator. Campbell makes Shepard’s jerky, disconnected dialogue seem natural, part of a larger net of idiosyncrasies he wears as easily as his character’s scuffed-up overcoat.

Marcus Edghill, as underhanded lawyer Taylor, also managed to charm the audience with several well-placed smirks. One of the biggest laughs of the evening arose from nothing more than one of Edghill’s insincere smiles at the close of another bizarre altercation between two characters.

“They pulled (the absurdism) off really well,” said Bachi Quinonez, first-year. “The set was beautiful. The way that Laura (Pates) captured the decay process was really good.”

Laura Pates, junior and set designer, called the design concept, with its crumbling facade and lonely gingham curtains, “complex.”

“It was partly based on the collapse of the family structure – the collapse of the American dream,” said Pates.

“Most of us aren’t going to become famous or have an amazing life or be a hero,” said Hanna of the play’s message. “And then we get frustrated when we’re not, and we think that it’s a scam, a conspiracy that’s designed to keep us down, right, and it’s just the way it happened, you know? It’s just the way things are. And I think we could all learn from that and be happier with what we do have.

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