In the dimly lit Lyon’s Den on Sunday, Oct. 27, students and faculty cupped mugs of coffee and tea, ate the always-popular chocolate chip cookies (warmed, of course), and settled in a comfy couch. However, this was not a typical Sunday evening at the Den; the occasion was the event “The Madness of Small Worlds,” a performance of two monologues entitled “Horrocks (and Toutatis too)” and “Wu World Woo.”
The monologues were written by the internationally celebrated playwright Mac Wellman, and directed by Elena Araoz. The two pieces come from Wellman’s short story collection A Chronicle of The Madness of Small Worlds and were first presented in May at The Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. “The Madness of Small Worlds” was also performed over the weekend at The Paramount Center in Boston to sold-out audiences.
Wellman is a Distinguished Professor of Play Writing at Brooklyn College in New York, and Wheaton was fortunate to have him in the audience to watch the performances. Students in Professor Charlotte Meehan’s English Senior Seminar on contemporary drama had the opportunity to meet Wellman, whose works and essays they studied in their course. According to one student from Meehan’s seminar Alex Lane ’14, “[His writing] makes you think when you read. It’s much different hearing it than reading.”
Meehan introduced the event and invited the audience to a “mesmerizing” night of theatre. “Horrocks (and Toutatis too)” was the first monologue, performed by actress Erin Mallon. Seated in front of the audience, an old fan whirling in the background, Mallon delivered an intense, powerful performance to a silent audience. The monologue spoke of her parents, her childhood, of falling in love with a toucan and his darkly comedic death.
After a brief intermission, Timothy Siragusa performed “Wu World Woo” accompanied by the band Electric Chamber Music. The music dipped and swelled with Siragusa’s voice, adjusting tones and tempos. In the world of this monologue, everyone shared the same name, Mary Carnivorous Rabbit.
Electric Chamber Music’s involvement emerged from a connection between Siragusa and the band, both based out of Omaha. The accompaniment of music was the result of embracing a direction that was not originally intended, which Wellman considered the best way to approach a project.
Rather than follow a story, or plot, Wellman’s works seemed to be more a performance of “verbal acrobatics.” These pieces, while originally short stories, are theatrical in nature, and seem perfectly suited for the stage.
His monologues played with language, through word play and their delivery, interpretation and meaning. They operated on many levels, including “hidden references to other plays I was writing at the same time,” Wellman said.
His writing was strange, elusive and resists description, yet seeing and hearing the pieces captivated the listener.
Meehan’s description best sums up the monologues as “philosophy written in the form of poetry that hangs on a narrative thread just to keep the audience attentive to the urgent political messages flying around the room like electrons.”