“The House That Will Not Stand,” on stage through Nov. 19 at Loyola University’s Marquette Theatre, marks the directorial debut of professor Laura Hope in her new role as chairwoman of Loyola’s Department of Theater Arts and Dance and artistic director of Loyola University Theatre.
No stranger to the university, Hope has been teaching at Loyola since 2007. In the position she took over in January, Hope intends to more firmly establish the department as a part of the local — and national — theater community. That goal is evident in the programming of her first season, a trio of shows on the theme “the Creative American Spirit.”
“In the past, we just did whatever a particular director wanted to do, instead of curating our seasons to better reflect not only the demographics of our department, but our city, and to make sure that the plays were engaging more directly with a wider range of plays and a wider range of voices,” said Hope.
“I think going forward, we’re interested in doing plays that deal with our contemporary social situation and issues of social justice.”
“The House That Will Not Stand,” a contemporary play from writer Marcus Gardley, is loosely based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba.” Set in in New Orleans in the early 19th century, the play examines the practice of plaçage, wherein French colonists took mistresses of color, an arrangement that elevated the status of the women and their children in exchange for their loyalty and devotion but still left them marginalized in free society.
In Gardley’s play, one such mistress, Beatrice, is widowed by her lover, leaving three well-off, mixed-race daughters whose social standing is at odds with mounting racial tensions in the run-up to the Civil War.
According to Hope, Gardley deftly shapes the material into something more than just a history lesson.
“He does it in a very smart and compelling way that ties into some contemporary issues that we’re discussing in our society from coast to coast,” Hope said.
Addressing social issues through theater is important to Hope, not just as a central tenant of the university’s 2016-17 season (next up, in March, is “The Spitfire Grill,” a musical about a young woman’s quest to start over after being released from prison) but also as an essential component of theater education.
“If we look at the broader history of world theater — tracing back to the ancient Greeks — yes, theater was entertaining, but it was really a civic event,” Hope said. “It was really meant as a place to create dialogue among citizens.”
Hope intends to engage students and audiences not just through the plays, but also through collaboration with the city’s theater community.
For last month’s season opener, a production of Eugene O’ Neill’s “Beyond the Horizon,” the department tapped director Mark Routhier of the NOLA Project.
The university also recently announced that Southern Rep will be in residence at Loyola through 2018, when the company plans to occupy its own space, currently under renovation, in the former St. Rose de Lima Church on Bayou Road.
Southern Rep’s residency began last week at Loyola’s Lower Depths Theatre with “Grounded,” a one-woman play by George Brant starring Kerry Cahill as an Air Force pilot navigating the realities of both war and family.
“Most of the other theaters in town tend to be downtown,” Hope said. “I’d like for people in our community, in Uptown, to be able to think about Loyola as a place where they can come to see new plays and reimagined classics.”