Posted on March 18, 2011 by Tia Lalani

The audience delighted at the world premiere of Auksenberg: Trial by Fury on U of A Augustana Campus.

By Christopher Thrall –

On March 17, the world premiere of Auksenberg: Trial by Fury took to the U of A Augustana stage. “This play seems – unfortunately – kind of timely,” said author Leslea Kroll in a question session afterwards: themes of community, racism and environmentalism resonated against the backdrop of a threatened penguin colony.

Twelve students, from their first to fifth years at Augustana, waddled impressively through the script. Their performances were a delight: each channeled an anthropomorphic penguin, their heads peering around and their wings flapping uselessly as they hopped. They voiced their cries as they clustered in their flock. As the story unfolded, the mannerisms remained.

In Auksenberg, the stocks are depleting: in response, a tax is placed on a minority group within the colony. The community is fractured and yet the stock situation does not improve. The leadership, majority group and minority group all responded in different ways to the environmental and social pressures that mount over the course of the story.

Death, toxins and taxes played out among the slightly ridiculous sounds and gestures of the anthropomorphic penguins, but the intensity is real. The music score swelled and carried the audience through the scenes. The students maintained admirable focus, even as giggles swept through the audience of 50 or so who attended opening night.

After the sustained applause following the show, the question and answer session featured playwright Leslea Kroll, director and drama professor Kevin Sutley, as well as the cast and crew – who were largely the same students. Many questions focused on the morality present in the script.

“Each of the characters are the sum total of the choices they have made to that point,” Kroll explained about the fatal consequences faced by some of the birds. “If we know there are better paths, why not choose them?”

“It’s not a black and white issue,” said Katie Melnychuk (Muria), dressed ironically in her penguin suit and makeup. “We deal with the past, and with right and wrong, and the play puts all of these issues in a questioning light.” The students mentioned having to distinguish between wrong choices and evil ones.

“In lots of ways,” said Kroll, “a play set in a bird colony opens up lots of opportunities for metaphor. There are a lot of things in my world that I feel frustrated about.” Despite living in a liberal democracy, Kroll felt powerless about many of the decisions made for the good of the people. She placed this disaffection in the context of environmental crisis and set it in a penguin colony. The violence and revelations that developed were natural outgrowths.

“It was very important for us to find the balance between what is animal and what is human,” said Devon Hunter (Moiseau). Students, director and playwright certainly managed to do so in Auksenberg: Trial by Fury.

Auksenberg: Trial by Fury
Thursday-Sunday, March 17-20 & Wednesday-Saturday, March 23-26
All Shows 7:30 pm [doors open at 7:00 pm]
Augustana Theatre
Tickets: $15 (adults); $5 (students) – available only at the door.

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