Lynn Deboeck doesn’t like the term, “period piece.” At least not with regard to Naomi Wallace’s “And I and Silence,” which opens Friday in KU’s Inge Theatre under Deboeck’s direction.
“It’s set in the 1950s time period for a reason,” the third-year doctoral candidate says. But “the ’50s time period throws (the show’s themes) into greater relief.”
And those themes are deep. The play tells the story of two women in prison. Jamie is black. She’s wrongfully convicted of accessory to robbery and incarcerated for nine years. In jail, she meets Dee, who’s white and sentenced to nine years for murdering her father because he was abusing her mother and her. Despite their different backgrounds, they become friends.
“When they’re in prison, they plan what they’re going to do when they get out,” Deboeck says. “In the second act, when they are out and older, they discover they’re still in prison. But, this time, it’s societal expectations imprisoning them.”
Deboeck’s been looking for this opportunity for a while. A fan of Wallace’s work, she purchased a copy of “And I and Silence” from Amazon.com several years ago.
“I read it cover to cover four times in a row when I got it,” she confesses.
She originally proposed it to Ottawa University, and they were interested. But it turned out the amateur rights weren’t available at the time. When she got a chance to do it for her doctorate, she was overjoyed.
“I think it’s a fabulous play for young actors,” Deboeck says. “I think these women are relatable.”
Of course, whether she calls it a period piece or not, the play is set in the ’50s, and the historical events of that period might require some education for actors in their late teens or early ’20s.
“When we sat down to do table-work,” I had this whole plan to educate them on the civil rights movement,” Deboeck says. “Instead, it came from the cast.”
She found her cast members all were aware of the events, but they had totally different views of them.
“My white actors went to school, and they learned about these events, and then they went home, and that was the end of their education on it. But the black actors learned about it in school, and then they went home, and their parents taught them even more about it. The white actors had this academic understanding of the Civil Rights movement, but, for the black actors, it was experiential.
“That led to everyone really learning about each other and coming to understand each other’s perspective a lot more.”
In the play’s second act, Jamie fights against who she is more than Dee.
“She just wants to be normal,” Deboeck says. “She doesn’t want to be judged.”
Ultimately, that’s what’s at the heart of the play. It explores the concept of prison — both the physical ones and the societal ones we have imposed on ourselves. It examines their nature and what they do to their victims.
“I hope (the audience) comes away with their own sense of responsibility for acknowledging the prisons of this world,” Deboeck says.
“And I and Silence” opens Friday at the Inge Theatre in KU’s Murphy Hall. It runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday, when it is 2:30 p.m. An audience talkback follows the Saturday performance. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-3982 or visiting kutheatre.com.