by Rachel Perlot
The summer before I headed off to college, a good friend of mine sent me a text. “Hey, my aunt’s doing a reading downtown this afternoon. Wanna come?” Her aunt is an Obie-winning playwright, so I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity. We headed to a small bookstore in our hometown, and listened to Erin Courtney read the first and last scene of her newest play, A Map of Virtue. It was…well, unusual. I bought the script, shook her hand, and went home, without thinking much more about it.
Fast forward to spring of my freshman year at UW. The Undergraduate Theater Society (UTS) had just released its directing applications for the following year. I knew I wanted to apply; I just needed to choose a show. Much to my unease, every time I thought about the application, there was a nagging voice in my head. Apply with A Map of Virtue, it whispered, and every time I cast the thought aside. It’s too weird a story for a college student theatre group, I thought. The cast is too big. It’s too difficult from a production standpoint. It’s too difficult from an acting standpoint. Heck, it’s too difficult from a directing standpoint. I read through other plays ferociously, trying to find a play that would appease that nagging little voice, but it just kept going. Finally I gave in and read A Map of Virtue one more time, this time from a different perspective: could I do this?
This read, I realized that it might just be worth the risk. No, it isn’t a typical plot for a college theatre group, but maybe that’s why producing it is important. Maybe college students at UW should have the opportunity to explore challenging characters and non-traditional ways of telling a story. Maybe an opportunity to work on a play like this would be a breath of fresh air to drama students up to their ears in Shakespeare and Chekov and Moliere. Maybe a play full of poetry and silence, and very tiny bird statues, is just what this theatre community needs.
I took the plunge and applied with Erin Courtney’s delightfully different play, and UTS decided to take a chance on an ambitious freshman with a crazy idea for a show. Now, as we head into the final stages before opening night, I am left reeling at the amazing adventure this has been.
A Map of Virtue is about many things: the extremes of human morality, the impermanence of objects, and how people deal with power and powerlessness. Ultimately everything in the play boils down to one simple idea: connection. Every character in the show is aching for connection, and they express it in monumentally different ways. That’s what makes this play so interesting for me. All of the characters want the same thing, but the way they go about achieving what they want varies drastically.
There is something in this play that sings to me. It’s fresh, unusual, and original. There is poetry in the words, in the smallest and most mundane of conversations. There is magic in the structure, in the unexpected twists and encounters. And most of all, there is something so intrinsically human in each of the characters, even in the face of inhuman events. I am honored to be able to work with such talented people to translate that poetry, that magic, and that humanity to an audience.
A Map of Virtue runs February 27 – March 9 at the Cabaret Theatre in Hutchinson Hall. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.