Avant-garde of a theatrical nature


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“By virtue of having a face, I must carry an expression.”

Lisa Leaverton once used this line in a writing workshop, and now, she has turned the concept into a fully evolved play.

“I took it from there and investigated how elusive persona is,” she said.

How Catherine D_ Got Her Expression is an abstract work that revolves around a French celebrity and her press interview about the mysterious origin of her “expression.” The play will run from 8 p.m. today through Dec. 13 in the Theatre Building’s Theatre B.

“Right off the bat, it hits you,” UI freshman Simone Renault said. “It has that pull-the-rug-right-out-from-under-you effect, and it will definitely catch you off guard.”

Renault, who plays Catherine One in the play, said that though she’s been performing since she was 4, she’s never before worked with material this innovative and experimental. During the creative process, director Alex Iben broke plenty of theater rules and encouraged actors to direct their own staging.

Both Renault and Leaverton took great care not to give away too much of the play’s unique multi-sensory experience, but they agreed it takes an obscure approach to violence, and it will make the audience think long after the play is over.

“I’m less interested in audience understanding and more interested in the experience,” said Leaverton, a graduate student teaching assistant in the UI theater department. “I hope they walk away considering their choices when confronted with aggression and think about the fact that physical violence is only one part of the equation.”

The play also sheds light on the offender’s experience with violence and what kind of pain is contained by that person, she said.

“It’s a topic that’s disturbingly prevalent and often pushed to the wayside,” Renault said. “We all fall victim, but we’re also all perpetrators.”

With an air of suspense in their voices, Renault and Leaverton build anticipation solely in the way they handle Catherine D’s topic, both with tenderness and with force. One thing seems clear: the play is highly obscure, and the audience is expected to enter an other-worldly atmosphere.

“By the end of the show you come back into yourself,” Renault said. “And you’re like, ‘Whoa, did that just happen?’ ”

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