Battle of the ‘invisible, starving class’
One in eight Americans go hungry every day, yet America is considered one of the most obese countries in the world. Many of these are people who live in homes, work 9 to 5 jobs and have kids and families.
This is an invisible, starving class, associate professor in the department of theatre arts Diane Smith-Sadak said, and is the focus of Sam Shepard’s play “Curse of the Starving Class.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is directed by Smith-Sadak and will open Wednesday, March 6 at the Studio Theatre in the Center for the Arts.
Set in the Southern California desert on an avocado and sheep farm, “Curse of the Starving Class” features a family of four who are part of what Smith-Sadak calls “the invisible, starving middle class.” Smith-Sadak said the family struggles with money problems, gambling and credit card debt.
“[The play] was written in 1976 and it reads just like it was written yesterday,” Smith-Sadak said.
Freshman Allie Press plays 13-year-old Emma, who dreams of leaving her family and working as a mechanic. Her dream is to be the roadside hero for travelers whose cars break down. Emma spends the majority of the play trying to convince her mother, Ella, to let her leave home to pursue her dreams.
One challenge that Press said she faced while preparing for the role was getting in touch with her inner 13-year-old.
“I hold on to my bear,” Press said. “It’s just little things like that. I like throw a tantrum during the show, I never remember doing stuff like that.”
During rehearsal, Press said the cast often discussed family relations and struggles related to their characters and how the audience could empathize with them.
“The audience is very intimate, they feel like they’re in the house with the family…” Smith-Sadak said. “That’s really a wonderful experience to have, I think, because the play is the experience.”
No adaptations have been made to the play, Smith-Sadak said. She felt it was fundamental to the show’s meaning that no changes be made from the original script. That includes using a live lamb, Elmo, on stage with the actors.
“Elmo has maggots and so they take him into the kitchen to keep him warm and try to bring him back to be the best that he can,” Eddie Van Osterom, who plays Slater, an enforcer, said. “He’s kind of symbolic.”
The play depicts raw moments in the family’s lives, like when 16-year-old son Wesley, portrayed by sophomore Paul America, urinates all over his sister’s 4-H project. Audience members can see the character’s fake genitals, which is something that Smith-Sadak said America handled maturely.
“The actor is young, he’s a sophomore, but he’s handled it very, very well,” Smith-Sadak said. “It was written into a play, it was a very simple moment. It’s almost a dream-like sequence, it’s integral to the action of the play.”
Smith-Sadak said posters and promotional tools list a disclaimer warning people not to bring small children to the show, which runs until March 14.