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Acuna, Prenner engage audience in Nebula

The Great Nebula in Orion
Directed by Sameera Iyengar '93.
Starring Ivi Acua '94 and Emily Prenner '93.
Written by Lanford Wilson.
Dec. 2-4, 8 p.m.
Student Center, Room 407.

By Adam Lindsay

A chance meeting in New York City brings two Bryn Mawr friends, Louise (Ivi Acua '94) and Carrie (Emily Prenner '93), together for the first time in six years. Carrie is a Boston socialite, with a rich husband, beautiful children, and a house on three acres. Louise is a famous fashion designer living in New York, who leads a successful independent life. The two go to Louise's apartment overlooking Central Park for coffee, which quickly turns to brandy.

We immediately see an inability for the two characters to communicate; it is a struggle to maintain real conversation. Each woman quickly reveals her jealousy of the other's perfect life. Both characters also break down the fourth wall, using an intimacy with the audience as a substitute for intimacy with each other. Instead of using unheard soliloquies to reveal inner thoughts, the audience is engaged as a third participant in the conversation. It is a theatrical device which works very well here, quickly drawing in the audience.

With each other, the women both attempt to reach out, but then retract for fear of real contact. Carrie brings up an old acquaintance offhandedly and soon drops the subject. Louise, however, will not let it go and keeps pressing the point until we learn that he is an old flame for whom Carrie still longs, either in the flesh or as a symbol of a freer, more passionate life.

When one is not questioning the other, the conversation ranges from attempts at small talk and reminiscences to moments of real introspection and communication which soon die, smothered by the pain of revelation. The ensuing conversational lulls are then dismissed with more anecdotes.

Gradually, the women stop relying upon the audience for intimacy and confidence and turn to each other. It really is an act of courage as they stare at the unhappiness in their lives.

The two actresses perform well in their roles. Acua is very natural, expressing herself as the slightly-bohemian, nothing's-shocking Louise. Similarly, Prenner is completely convincing as the priggish, uncomfortable Carrie. Both are fascinating to watch as the intoxication sets in, for though the tongues loosen, neither character loses her essence.

Although the dress rehearsal began with both actresses a bit edgy (Prenner tense, and Acua speaking too quickly), they both eased into the performance more quickly than their characters eased into the conversation. Prenner used her contact with the audience well, and Acua showed that she was in command of her home and the brandy. Both physicalized their characters very well; the final tableau of Carrie sitting stock-straight, knees together, and horrified on the couch, with Louise squatting pensively on the cushion on the opposite side, was wonderfully illustrative. Their voices, as thoughts lose expression, trail off and make the audience long for more communication.

Sameera Iyengar's direction was unobtrusive, keeping the movements natural. The direction's strength is best evidenced in the chemistry between Prenner and Acua, Iyengar having obviously created a comfortable rehearsal atmosphere within which the actresses and characters could freely act and interact. In one subtle moment, Louise passed a brandy to Carrie's welcoming hands while crossing behind the couch. It was effortless and inconsequential, but it was a genuine moment that spoke highly of the ensemble's work.

The set in this workshop production was simple but effective in creating Louise's slightly disappointing apartment. The costumes perfectly contrasted the two characters on stage.

There were a few lapses, such as when Louise tries to sort out how she feels about her mother, words fail her, and it appears as if Acua has lost her lines. Despite this, the actresses create engaging characters who involve the audience in a compelling story. The free show on the fourth floor of the student center is a thoughtful and entertaining hour well spent.