The curtain opens and the crowd goes silent. A smooth jazz tune whistles through the air as a spotlight comes up to reveal a vivacious blonde in a glamorously sparkling dress.
Queenie, a free-spirited 1920s-era dancer, needs to put a spark back in her love life. So she decides to throw a party — a wild party.
A sordid mix of characters, including a Broadway producer, prizefighter, hooker and a pair of flamboyantly incestuous brothers, combined with excessive drinking and revenge-fueled hookups constitute the Ithaca College Department of Theatre Arts’ second production this year, “The Wild Party.”
Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 epic poem of the same name, the play follows vaudeville performers Queenie (senior Meredith Beck) and Burrs, Queenie’s boyfriend, (junior Eric Morris). Queenie and Burrs’ steamy physical relationship has recently turned abusive, and in an effort to make Burrs jealous, Queenie decides to host a party for her friends, including Kate (senior Cat Stephani) and her date, the suave Mr. Black (junior Mike Haller).
Morris said depicting a Prohibition party filled with booze and drugs made for interesting acting.
“It’s great because it gives you a lot of liberty to come up with these crazy circumstances,” he said.
The play revolves around the four characters’ complicated sexual relationships, which become tangled as Queenie chases Black, Kate goes after Burrs and the four test their partners’ limits.
Director Norm Johnson, associate professor of theater arts, said the complexity of the story has made this show a challenging one to direct but one that people will definitely be interested in.
“It really does seem to fit right into that genre that people seem to find so compelling — that People magazine, reality television, gossip thing,” he said. “In the end, this is just a good story.”
Choreographer Adam Pelty, assistant professor of theater arts, put his successful Broadway career on hold to join the department this year and help with this production. He said the show has been choreographically demanding because the actors almost never leave the stage throughout the entire production.
“It’s really about four people who are trying to take control, and they absolutely do not have it,” he said.
Brian DeMaris, assistant professor of music performance, is also new to the college this year. He serves as the musical director for the show.
Johnson said working with Pelty and DeMaris is a great opportunity for students and for the entire creative team.
“It’s certainly great to have new blood,” Johnson said. “They bring new energy, new excitement, new ideas and new ways of doing things. That always gets everyone excited — I know the students are totally, totally jazzed.”
Both Johnson and Pelty said splitting their duties has been a challenge. Staging some of the show’s racier scenes, like the onstage sex scenes, has proved even more difficult.
Beck said though the scenes are provocative, Johnson and Pelty have stylized them in a way that is tasteful and comfortable for the actors to perform.
“It’s not for shock value or anything like that,” Beck said. “We’re not deliberately doing anything to make the audience uncomfortable. … We don’t want that to take away from the story.”
Senior Kelly Syring designed the set for the show, which features walls tilting toward the audience. Syring said this creates the distorted perception of reality that the characters live in.
“These people were living like there was no tomorrow,” she said. “Living in the 1920s, their world could collapse at any moment, and I wanted that to come through in the design.”
Syring said renovations of the Hoerner Theatre and fluctuating prices of set materials have made designing the set difficult, but both the cast and crew have been coping with the challenge.
Like the set, the show’s costumes also reflect the wide spectrum of the characters’ realities — something senior Alexander Woodward, the show’s costume designer, said he wanted to portray clearly.
“The fun clothing is the party clothing — the tuxedos and the beautiful dresses,” he said. “There are no limits to what they might wear.”
Pelty said the show’s mature story line makes it perfect for a college audience.
“Students will enjoy it because they can kind of relate to certain aspects of the play,” he said. “It’s a party gone crazy — how can you not want to see something like that?”
“The Wild Party” will be performed at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Nov. 6 to 8, 12, 14 and 15, with matinee performances at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 and 15, at the Hoerner Theatre in Dillingham Center. Tickets range from $4.50 to $10 and can be purchased by calling the Ithaca College box office at 274-3224.