Infidelity, with lots of laughs


The relationships of Madonna and Guy Ritchie, Tori Spelling and Charlie Shanian, and even Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have all been plagued by allegations of infidelity. But which sex was the actually first to cheat? The question may have an impossible answer, but French dramatist Pierre de Marivaux, gives his take on which sex was unfaithful first in his play The Dispute, written in 1744.

The Iowa City Community Theatre will present the comedy today at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Theatre Festival Stage in Lower City Park. The Dispute, directed by Kathleen Hession, will run through Aug. 23; admission is $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $8 for children.

For Iowa City-native Hession, theater has been an important part of her life. She acted in many plays while growing up, but her first directing role took place while she was attending West High.

“As I got older, I started to realize that I liked knowing about every aspect [of a play],” she said. “I got really curious, so I wanted to have my hands in every different aspect of producing a production.”

Her desire to produce led her to Notre Dame, where she received a B.F.A. in English and drama with a focus on directing. While there, she had the opportunity to be an assistant director of a version of The Dispute, which later led to her presenting the idea to Iowa City Community Theatre’s board of directors.

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“I’m excited to be able to come back to it from a little bit of a different perspective, and a little bit of a different eye than I had the first time,” Hession said.

The Dispute takes place in what Hession describes as a Garden of Eden in which four characters are thrown into a social scientific experiment.

“The audience gets to witness what it’s like for these four individual children, young lovers as I like to call them, to meet for the first time,” she said. “You see their excitement in meeting someone new, and their terror, and what it’s like to see the girls interact with the boys.”

Although the interaction may sound simple enough, Hession describes the communication between the sexes as complicated — mostly because relationships themselves are rarely straightforward.

Though the topic of love and relationships may seem heavy, The Dispute is actually a comedy.

“I call it a summer comedy because it’s very light,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that throughout the entire piece I find myself smiling, whether smiling out of astonishment or humor, or sometimes smiling out of frustration because I can’t believe people are saying things that we would never say in our everyday lives. They’re so frank with each other I find it absolutely hilarious.”

One of the difficult parts about performing The Dispute is that it will take place outside, which poses new and interesting challenges for the actors.

“We’re subject to the elements, so the birds and the bees and weather and Sun and Moon all play a role here that you can’t necessarily control,” said Nelson Gurll, who plays the role of Mesrou, the children’s caretaker. “It’s exciting because it’s in the motif of Shakespeare — the single stage in front of an audience.”

The Dispute has been performed very little in the United States, but that isn’t the pressure that is getting to Hession. She said the main stress she feels as a director is to make sure that people are aware of the context of the play.

“For anyone who has ever been in a collegiate relationship, there is going to be so much that they find echoed in this play and so much to laugh about that perhaps once made you angry or sad,” she said. “You can now twist it in just a little different way and think of it in a really fun way. I want to open up the eyes of Iowa City to this play.”

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