“The Maiden’s Prayer” tackles tough, adult themes in KSU Stark performance

Mariam Makatsaria

Unrequited love, a failed marriage, depression and alcoholism were challenges the characters of Nicky Silver’s “The Maiden’s Prayer” faced during Kent State Stark’s production of the darkly humorous play.

Brian Newberg, assistant professor of theatre and theatre director, directed the play, which drew an audience of about 300 people Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

“We’re moved by the stories of others,” Newberg said. “What I hope is that the audience will try to get someone’s story, someone’s life — even if that person is very different from what they are.”

Newberg said he was always impressed by Silver’s writing style, which he described as edgy, funny and dark. He said that as he was thinking of shows to select for this season, “The Maiden’s Prayer” captured his imagination.

“I was looking for shows that have good roles for 20-somethings because that is the age of most, but not all, of our students,” Newberg said. “There were really some great roles in this show for five actors, and the way he writes is complicated and challenging. I thought, ‘wow. This would be a good complex script for our students and community artists to tackle.’”

With only five roles, the play revolves around the characters of Taylor, played by Jesse Fulks, and Cynthia, played by Tess Roholt. It also follows Libby, played by Maya Nicholson; Paul, played by C.J. Pinter; and Andrew, played by James Reichart, who experience a tragic cycle of romance.

Newberg said that the characters were very “different from the realm of experience of most of the students” in his department. The characters were urban, sophisticated New Yorkers who were very verbose.

“It is a very wordy script,” Newberg said. “I thought, ‘yeah, that would be a good thing for our folks to tackle and for our audience to experience, too.’ That turned out to be the case.”

The character of Libby received immediate laughs and gasps from the audience as they reacted well toward her funny yet tragic performance.

“The fact that Libby in herself is such a complex character and she goes through a lot of emotional changes was the biggest challenge for me, just trying to capture all of those changes,” Nicholson said. “I think that overall with everybody’s work that we put into it, it ended up being a great show.”

The play also dealt with both straight and gay relationships and contained sexual content and strong language.

“It’s not a light, frothy comedy,” Newberg said. “It’s a dark comedy, and there’s a lot of heavy stuff in there.”

The cast and crew included community members and students from a variety of majors, including theater, marketing, psychology, communication, nursing and music.

“I’ve got people who get involved with us and take classes here from other majors,” Newberg said. “You know what? I think that makes it stronger. I like having the diversity.”

The cast and crew worked on the show for more than two months.

“I am immensely proud of the cast and the crew and the entire production ensemble – and I mean ensemble, I don’t just mean the actors,” Newberg said. “I mean everybody. We have about 20 people working on this show, and everybody has pulled together to pull off what is not an easy show. I don’t pick easy shows to do here at Kent State Stark, I really don’t. I pick tough ones. I pick mountains that people have to climb. Because you know what? That’s how we grow.”

Newberg said that he was focused on the students’ learning process and growth more than anything else.

“It is about growth,” Newberg said. “It’s about education and about striving to put out the best show you possibly can. That is kind of my philosophy.”

While the audience was initially small to begin with, it grew by mid-performance. At the end of the play, the crowd applauded as the actors took to the stage to bow and wave at the audience.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” senior nursing major Elena Apsatarova said. “It is more than I expected coming to a college play. I guess the actors did a good job conveying all of the emotions. I actually do feel their sadness.”

The play was performed Nov. 1, 2, and 3 for its opening week.

“It was a very good opening,” Newberg said. “But it wasn’t by accident. It was because we had a really coherent and very well-organized and very user-friendly production process from the rehearsals to the technical rehearsals to dress rehearsals to production meetings.”

The final weekend featured performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and a closing matinee on Sunday at 2:30. Pinter, who played Paul, said Sunday’s performance drew the largest crowd. The performances on Sunday and Nov. 3 were interpreted into ASL.

Contact Mariam Makatsaria at [email protected].