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October 4, 2012

OU Lab Theatre’s premiere explores lingering questions

Secrets — everyone has them. But what might happen if they are awakened? Would the emotions overwhelm one to the point of losing control? Or would self-hatred rise and manifest itself as brutality toward others physically, verbally and emotionally?

University of Oklahoma Lab Theatre’s season premiere explores these questions in Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s 1990 play “Lion in the Streets.” The title is a biblical reference to Proverbs.

Dramaturg and actor Kyle Whalen explained in his program note that “we, like the sluggard, may retreat from our lion. The characters in ‘Lion in the Streets’ are forced to face the beast.”

The black box setting’s intimacy heightens the play’s raw depictions of lust, self-loathing and hatred. Downward eyes are impossible because of the close proximity of the play’s action.

“Lion in the Streets” is not a play for the inexperienced. Cast member Chandler Ryan’s thoughts summarized her own difficulty in developing her characters.

“When starting the rehearsal process for this show, the deep, emotional nature of the content seemed out of reach for someone my age. These characters have such weight that is so apparent in every line of the text spoken, I didn’t know how I would ever be able to understand what they are going through.”

More than a decade older than Ryan, I echoed her initial worries as an audience member after the play’s opening scenes. I quickly began thinking, am I going to be able to sit here for two hours and watch actors display their sexual urges, hit each other and listen to their blood curtailing screams?

Yes, thanks to director Susan Shaughnessy and her cast’s abilities to emphasize moments that led me to sympathize with their various characters. Shaughnessy’s six cast members play 29 characters.

There are humorous moments squeezed in between the panic and fear. Ryan delivers one of these moments as Rhonda proclaims everyone needs treats in life: “Every bite of jelly donuts cleans out your soul.” What? But before you think, the laughter comes and the tension is broken for a brief moment.

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