Thursday, May 30, 2024

PSUC hosts experimental play

“She Took His Head Away” is an experimental play coming to Plattsburgh State thanks to the collaboration between Alpha Delta Phi Society and the English department being performed by the theater company Strange Harbor. Strange Harbor’s purpose is to create new plays out of classic works. “She Took His Head Away” draws from the biblical story of Judith of Bethulia and the painting “Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Italian baroque painter Artemisia.

“We call our work experimental theater because we want to challenge ourselves to grow and try new styles and methods with each play that we work on,” Zachary Tomlinson, one of the founders of Strange Harbor, said. “This starts with creating a play based on something other than a traditional dramatic script.

The first two plays they created were adaptations of epic novels, “Moby-Dick” and “The Brothers Karamazov.” This time they decided to treat a painting like a text. They chose three paintings of the same subject, “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Caravaggio, Gentileschi and Klimt, and they are creating the play by devising it in rehearsal with the actors.

The method of which Strange Harbor comes up with their plays is not the only unique thing about them. The upcoming performance of “She Took His Head Away” is still an unfinished play that will cross genres.

“We’re going to talk about that at the beginning. Rather than tell one story beginning to end, we’re going to look at the key moment in a story from different perspectives,” Tomlinson said. “Unlike creating a play based on a pre-written script, we still don’t know what the final shape of the play will be. We want to share this process with the audience to learn about what resonates and how others might interpret the story we’re telling.”
While the story’s description may be considered quite morbid, Tomlinson said the play is quite serious at parts, but there’s also a lot of humor in the absurdity of the most grotesque moments.

This event is a collaboration between the PSUC English department and an organization with a strong literary tradition. The organization’s adviser Kate Moses brought to their attention the group Strange Harbor once she learned they wanted to collaborate with the department. The organization wanted to honor one of their siblings.

Daniel Pearl, a journalist and member of an Alpha Delta Phi chapter at Stanford University, was beheaded by Pakistani militants in 2002.

“As soon as I heard it ties into the biblical story of Judith, I was interested. I’m very big on religion, having read most of the Bible myself,” said Ana Marina Alcantara, a member of the society. “I wanted to see how this adaptation of it would turn out. Also, I was very interested in the connection the play has to Daniel Pearl, a fellow fraternity brother.”

When Moses learned of this, coincidentally her son, Tomlinson, and his theater company were working on the production of “She Took His Head Away,” which is about the political power of women and violence.

“The play is about violence and a woman taking power away from a dangerous man,” Tomlinson said. “There’s a lot of violence that we see in the news and on the internet every day, so one of the things we’re trying to do with this piece is explore what it means to have to confront that barrage of horror as a daily spectacle. ”

They attempt to accomplish this by using a mix of choreography and live music in the piece and video projections. After the performance, they will talk with the audience about their experience and invite their feedback.”

Tomlinson is excited to be performing in Plattsburgh due to the different audience that will be on display compared to New York City, where the theater group is located.

“New York City audiences can be used to seeing nonlinear performances and plays that cross genres and mediums, so it will be valuable for us to hear how audiences in Plattsburgh respond to what we’re creating,” Tomlinson said.

Even students who aren’t literary or political buffs are encouraged to experience this play due to its unique nature.

“Why would you not want to go to a free event? Even if students aren’t interested in the literary aspect of the play, they should be interested in the learning about the present day connection it has to terrorism and the American society,” Alcantara said.

“She Took His Head Away” will be performed May 9 at 8:30 p.m. at 30 City Hall Place.

Email Luis Reyes at

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