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May 12, 2003

Theater in five languages highlights spring productions

By Jennifer McNulty

One of the highlights of the busy spring theater season at UCSC is the annual International Playhouse staging of short plays in their original languages--Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.

A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood is one of the International Playhouse selections.

Don't worry if your linguistic talents aren't up to the challenge, however. English supertitles accompany each piece, projected above the stage on the proscenium.

This year's selection includes "stringent social commentary" from Argentina and the court of Louis XIV in France (see program notes below).

The International Playhouse performances take place in the Cowell College Dining Hall on Friday, May 16, at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, May 17, at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

Performed in the original languages by UCSC students, the plays are directed, or written and directed, by lecturers in the UCSC Language Program.

By performing in the language they are studying, students learn how to express themselves more readily and develop confidence, said Miriam Ellis, a lecturer in the French language program who has produced UCSC performances in French since 1971. Three years ago, the event expanded to include other languages.

"It's a tremendous pedagogic tool," said Ellis. "Students learn about the cultures of other countries, they learn about movement and gesture, and they open their imaginations to what they are capable of doing. They learn things they never knew they could do before."

As a high school student, Ellis received a scholarship from the French government to do theater and discovered "what a tremendous boon theatrical performance was to getting an almost native command of the language."

All five pieces will be fully staged with sets and costumes. Although students receive academic credit for the course that culminates in the performances, instructors are working as volunteers, noted Ellis.

"This is a labor of great love by the language faculty," said Ellis. "It's a tremendous amount of work, and we're all very tired, but it's really wonderful."

The International Playhouse is presented each year as a collaboration of the Humanities Division, Cowell College, and the Language Program.

The selections are:

French: Une Soirée á Versailles (An evening at Versailles) Directed by Miriam Ellis and featuring works by La Fontaine, Mme de Sévigné, and Molière, the French portion of the program includes a performance of the song "Plaisir d'amour," the melody made famous by Elvis Presley in his adaptation, "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You."

German: Rotkappchen (Red Riding Hood) A retelling of the fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, directed by Judith Harris-Frisk.

Spanish: El Hombre Que Se Convirtió en Perro (The Man Who Became a Dog) by Osvaldo Dragún. Directed by Paco Ramirez, this funny yet profound piece of social commentary describes what desperate people will do to survive.

Chinese: "Cross Talk" and "Chinese Mime" Written and directed by Jackie Ku, the comedy "Cross Talk" showcases cultural differences that come between two students, while the visually charming art of Chinese mime is featured in the second short performance.

Japanese: "Sweet Poison" from the Okura School. Director Sakae Fujita's training in medieval Japanese theater is evident in the costumes, movements, and sounds of the performers in this piece.

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