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Features

Melville comedy opens season at NIU

Lawyers and clowns share the stage in the first play of the Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance 2012-2013 season.

An adaptation of Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” runs Sept. 27 through 30 and Oct. 4 through 7 in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre.

The play centers on the quiet rebellion of a law office scribe named Bartleby. He is hired by a Manhattan lawyer to perform general secretarial tasks. Bartleby soon refuses to do any actual work but never seems to leave the office, which frustrates and confuses the other employees, especially his boss.

Guest director Josh Anderson said the theme of the show is the decisions one makes and how those decisions ultimately affect everyone.

Alexander Gelman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, adapted Melville’s story for the stage. He is the artistic director for the Organic Theater Company, which premiered the play over the summer in Chicago and Naperville. Intended as a comedy by Melville, Gelman keeps the spirit of the story by referring to it as a clown show.

“Bartleby the Scrivener” came to NIU through a program in which students understudy the characters with the Organic over the summer and remount it as the first fall show of the season. The play was chosen with its suitability for NIU theater students specifically in mind.

Anderson was assistant director for the production over the summer, and he said the biggest difference between working with the Organic Theater Company and NIU students is the personalities of the actors.

“When you have a completely different cast, the actors will bring their own personalities,” Anderson said in a news release. “The personality of the actor always influences the way the character turns out.”

Mark Hespen plays one of two clowns in the show. He said the hardest part of the transition between an understudy and a performer was trying not to mimic the original actor’s technique. Despite the challenge of bringing individuality to the characters, he said the mentoring provided by the original actors was invaluable.

Hespen said the 90-minute play is shorter than most and has more action.

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