Uncovering the animal within, on stage
Stephanie Friedman wobbles across the room, precariously balanced on a pair of yellow stilts and an elongated set of crutches. Michael Allen hangs upside down, eyes wide and tongue lolling. Their movements are sometimes languid, other times jerky.
“We’re trying to find a balance between human and animal behaviors,” Allen explains, toppling over. “It isn’t easy.”
Allen (CFA’10) and Friedman (CFA’10) are rehearsing Brilliant Creatures, a new play by Carolyn Gilliam (CFA’10) that premieres tonight at the College of Fine Arts. The characters are animals, but the emotions they portray — fear, heartbreak, self-loathing, jealousy, lack of purpose — are human.
“Brilliant Creatures challenges viewers to confront their most primitive qualities by acknowledging the animal within themselves,” says director Collin Meath (CFA’10).
The narrative develops through nine vignettes that explore primal impulses. “Humans are so polite and restrained most of the time,” says Gilliam, “but when it comes to our primal urges — fear, hunger, lust — we behave like beasts. I wanted Brilliant Creatures to convey that hypocrisy.”
On the surface, the vignette “Starved” is about two rats rummaging through a garbage dump. But it’s also a commentary on self-image. “There’s a raging epidemic of eating disorders on BU’s campus,” Gilliam says. “Girls are just withering away. ‘Starved’ confronts the unhealthy relationship that so many girls have with food and their own bodies.”
Another, “Bitches,” uses a pack of savage dogs to symbolize longing for acceptance and the sting of rejection. “You make us want to hurt you, maim you,” the actors bark at a limping pup. “We cannot hurt you enough to satisfy.” The scene is eerily reminiscent of the pack mentality among high school cliques.
Brilliant Creatures concludes with “Giraffe and Hyena,” two animals that ordinarily would be enemies discovering shared meaning under a blazing African sun. “The sun is our own human brilliance,” says Gilliam, “too bright to comprehend.”
Portraying animals on stage is exciting and liberating, Allen says. “It’s a lot easier to take risks and try different — and sometimes stupid — ideas when there’s no set formula. Because who’s going to tell me how a hyena or a goldfish speak?”
Friedman plays one of the rats in “Starved.” “We’ve been experimenting with different pitches,” she says. “I go from speaking in really high, painful tones to low, disgusting ones. We hope that bridging the gaps between those extremes will help convince the audience they’re listening to a rat, not a human.”
Brilliant Creatures is Gilliam’s first play. “I thought I’d learn more from writing several short pieces rather than tackling a longer piece with a complicated storyline,” she says. She wrote most of the script last spring in Italy while studying in BU’s study abroad program.
“I think the beauty of the play occurs during moments when communication is reached between characters,” she says, “because our ability to communicate beyond our animal urges is what brings us closer to the divine.”
Brilliant Creatures opens tonight, Thursday, September 3, at 7:30 p.m., at the College of Fine Arts David Copeland Black Box Studio 354, 855 Commonwealth Ave., and repeats Friday, September 4, at 4:30 and 9 p.m. and Saturday, September 5, at 8 p.m. Performances are free. For more information, call 617-353-3391.
Vicky Waltz can be reached at email@example.com Comments