Monthly Archives: September 2012

Jeff Sugg ’95 reviews “Grace” for the Wall Street Journal


Each week in Curtain Raisers, we invite a local theater artist to attend a show of his or her choosing and discuss the results. Last Thursday, the projection designer Jeff Sugg opted to see Craig Wright’s “Grace” at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street. Mr. Sugg’s Broadway credits include “33 Variations” and “Bring it On: The Musical.” He is a co-founding member, with Cynthia Hopkins and Jim Findlay, of Accinosco, whose next show, a climate-crisis musical called “This Clement World,” will have its premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in February. Mr. Sugg is currently working on the musical “Fun Home,” which will run at the Public Theater from Oct. 17 to Nov. 4.

Lizzie Simon for The Wall Street JournalJeff Sugg

“Every show, if you’re lucky, there’s three seconds of an emotional experience which becomes a spiritual experience because you’re having it with a room full of people having it,” Mr. Sugg said.

At Thursday night’s preview of “Grace” there had been not one but a bounty of such experiences. “This,” he said, “is why we do theater.”

The play follows a devout Christian couple, Sara and Steve (Kate Arrington and Paul Rudd), who have moved from Minnesota to Florida to pursue a business opportunity involving a chain of Jesus-inflected hotels. Sara feels out of sync and lonely and befriends their neighbor, Sam (Michael Shannon), a NASA engineer who has just survived a tragic car accident.

“It’s about faith—losing faith, finding faith,” Mr. Sugg said. “It’s really hard to write about that and do it well.”

At the start of the play the characters seem neatly divided between believers and the non-believers. Steve and Sara profess a breathless, blind faith, one that can prevent harm and beget real-estate deals. Sam, science-minded and recently traumatized, has no belief in a benevolent higher power, nor any patience for people who do. The exterminator who visits both apartments (Ed Asner), himself a war-crimes survivor, pretty much feels the same.

That any of these characters might switch sides during the course of the drama is not exactly a surprise—characters transform in the theater. But the miracle in “Grace,” as Mr. Sugg saw it, is that the audience is drawn from an academic questioning of whether there is any grace in the world to an unlikely, awestruck sense that there is. “For everybody in the audience who is laughing along in the beginning in all their atheist whatever, it’s like, ‘Bam, sorry dude, we got you.'”

If “Grace” hinges on one’s personal investment in the spiritual realm, on a parallel level the show bolstered Mr. Sugg’s faith in his profession. “On my worst days, I bemoan the fact that I’m not doing anything for society,” he said. “It’s easy to forget that theater can change the world. Or at least it can change people a little.”

Joan Marcus Mr. Sugg attended a performance of ‘Grace,’ above with Kate Arrington, Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon

“Grace” is a straight play with no projections, which Mr. Sugg, a projection designer, opted to see on account of that very fact. “I just did “Bring It On,” which is a big fancy musical,” he said. “I wanted to see something that was less visually extravagant and more bare.”

His work with projections has ranged from displaying super-titles, as he did in “Tribes,” to incorporating video, as he will with “This Clement World,” to providing setting, as in “Bring It On.”

“At its best, projection adds its own layer of story without being overly visually complicated,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of engineering involved, but in an ideal world you’re putting something into the story alchemically, as opposed to just using a bunch of screens.”

Typically, when he sees the work of other projection designers at the theater, he becomes a judge of aesthetics and technicality. “I’m thinking, ‘That sucks, that’s good, that’s a little off.'”

But in the absence of projections, “What my mind is able to do is freely imagine. There’s no job for me here.”

“Grace” may have lacked projections, but its set design, by Beowulf Boritt, was by no means old fashioned. On the set, both apartments overlap as one, with the furniture rotating on an inner ring in one direction and the apartments’ doors and windows rotating on an outside ring in the opposite direction. Behind them, clouds in the sky, likely painted on fabric, drifted continuously on a track. Dizzy yet? That’s the point. The impact can be disorienting and, as Mr. Sugg suggested, in complete service to the play and the performers.

He described the overall experience as “an ego attenuator. Here’s a playwright who wrote a beautiful play that doesn’t need projections to tell the story,” he said. “It just reminds me that the art form is much bigger than my contribution to it.”

A version of this article appeared September 25, 2012, on page A26 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Have Faith in the Theater.

Meeting for Theater Majors/Minors!

Meeting for Theater interested students! Majoring, minoring, wondering how to fit it into your Swarthmore plan…



Please join us on Sunday, September 30th at 7PM in the LPAC Frear Theatre for a dinner meeting (pizza, etc).

The meeting will be a chance for all majors and minors in Theater to meet each other, meet the regular faculty, hear the Department’s plans for the year, ask any questions about advising, honors, study abroad, summer funding, tech hours, student employment, internships, etc.

First year students especially welcome!
We hope to see all of you there!

Open Auditions for Kari Olmon’s Honors Dramaturgy Thesis!

When: Saturday the 15th, 11 a.m.

Where: LPAC Frear Theatre

Open Auditions for
Honors Thesis in Dramaturgy with Kari Olmon ’13

adapted from the diary of Vaslav Nijinsky and the theater of Tennessee Williams

Guest Artist Director: Walter Bilderback
Faculty advisors: James Magruder and Laila Swanson

No preparation needed!

First staged concert reading: October 5
Final staged concert reading: November 9-10

Swarthmore Project in Theater (SPT) presents Swim Pony’s GIANT SQUID 9/22


is coming to Swarthmore


PRESENTED BY SPT, Swim Pony Performing Arts & The Berserker Residents

SEPTEMBER 22nd at 8pm in SCI 101

Adrienne Mackey ’04 is a director who creates original and compelling theater using the power of the human voice and the forms of the human body. She is the head of Swim Pony Performing Arts for which she conceived and directed SURVIVE! in 2010 – a 22,000 sq foot performance installation examining the role of humanity in the universe. The following year she created Lady M – an all female spectacle of original music and movement based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth for the 2011 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. Her work covers areas ranging from pop culture (Purr, Pull, Reign with Johnny Showcase) American history (Owning Up to the Corn and The Ballad of Joe Hill), classic literature (The Master and Margarita at Mum Puppettheatre) and racial tensions within her hometown of Philadelphia (Recitatif, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival 2007). In Philadelphia she has received a 2010 Live Arts Brewery Fellowship and in 2006-2007 she was awarded the CEC’s New Edge Residency in Theater. Adrienne’s study of alternative voice has taken her to France’s Roy Hart Voice Centre on a 2008 Independence Foundation Fellowship. She also teaches voice as a professor at Drexel University and sings backup vocals as one half of “The Truth” with Johnny Showcase and The Lefty Lucy Cabaret. Watch for her upcoming work with a remounted Lady M coming to the Annenberg Center’s in 2012-2013 season

Lori Barkin ’12 performs her solo work in the 2012 Fringe!


Enerio López is the last of his brothers and brother-in-laws to die. In his absence, he leaves an eclectic family of widows. Some of them include The Former Pork Queen of Guayaquín, a Santera who communes with spirits, and many more–all embodied in one actor. Combining Flamenco, Afro-Cuban beats, Santería, and the poetic world of writer Federico García Lorca, The Funeral of Enerio López is a foray into the rich inner lives of a family of Cuban-A

merican women now left to their own devices.

This audience participatory show is unlike anything you’ve seen! Come out and play!

To see the trailer and for more info. visit:

Friday, September 14, 10:00pm-11:00pm
Saturday, September 15, 10pm- 11:00pm
Thursday, September 20, 8pm-9pm
Saturday, September 22, 10pm- 11pm