UI students to perform original sci-fi play


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“Mystery creates wonder,” Neil Armstrong once said about humankind’s relationship with space. “And wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”

This desire is captured and explored in The Stellification, a science-fiction play with some distinct twists, and a part of the University of Iowa Theater Department’s Gallery Series. Gallery plays are original, never-before-performed pieces written, produced, and acted by UI students. Written by UI M.F.A. student Bella Poynton and directed by Janet Schlapkohl, the play will première at 7 p.m. today in the Theater Building Theater B and run through Oct. 21.

For lead character Rose Bergen, an impassioned astronomy Ph.D., there is nothing more wondrous and desirable than the idea of exploring outer space for herself. But when this opportunity is crushed with the cancellation of NASA’s shuttle program, Rose’s life hits a tailspin.

“She’s absolutely gutted; it’s a heart-wrenching experience for her,” said UI senior Simone Renault, who plays Rose. “She’s in a period where she doesn’t feel like she belongs on Earth. She’s obviously very intelligent, but that doesn’t stop her from being extremely insecure.”

The drama surrounding Rose’s confliction is a main focus of the story, but it takes a distinct science-fiction turn when stars, galaxies, and black holes — which are personified in the play — decide to stage a protest against Earth’s abandonment of the cosmos and select Rose as their ambassador. 

“I like to think about things that aren’t human as if they have human thoughts and emotions,” Poynton said. “I think it will have a very brightly colored comic-book kind of feel to it. It’s my own personal blending of the spiritual and the scientific — which I think aren’t so different.”

Schlapkohl agreed, saying The Stellification gives life to numerous themes and concepts.

“It’s an interesting blend,” she said. “You could appreciate this play as an earth-bound person interested in human relationships. You could also appreciate this play if you were a ‘Doctor Who’ fan.”

Poynton said she sought not only to cross boundaries among genres with her work, she wanted to expand the role of a typical female character.

“Usually, you see a woman on the page, and she’s so one-dimensional,” she said. “I want to kind of break out of that tradition into something that’s more genuine. Women today are not one-dimensional or two-dimensional. They’re really complex individuals, and they have numerous objectives — and they’re confused.”

According to Renault, Poynton has succeeded, constructing a relatable character in Rose.

“I think we all have those intrinsic dichotomies of being both very strong and very weak, of being motivated and passionate and being extremely hopeless,” she said. “At the end of the day, what’s fantastic about the play is that if you strip it all away, the lights and the costumes and stuff like that, it is an extremely human, relatable show.”

UI graduate student Brett Meyers, who plays Rose’s “nerdy and awkward” husband, Noah, said he found universality in his role as well.

“It’s fun to explore and play around with,” he said. “It’s really a different experience to work on a new play because there’s so much creativity that you can bring to the process. It’s fun on a whole new level.”

Renault shared Meyers’ enthusiasm for Poynton’s original work.

“It’s chaos, but it makes so much sense,” she said. “I think that’s what a good show is. Something that’s so out of this world — pun intended — but connects us all.”

And, as the play suggests, this centralizing element is often found when humans start to consider the skies.

“Maybe it’s been years for people since they were kids and looked up at the stars, and wondered about them,” Schlapkohl said. “I think that sense of wonderment is the gift of this play back to the audience.”

What: Gallery Series, The Stellification
When:  8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Oct. 21
Where: Theater Building Theater B
Admission: Free for UI students with IDs, $5 for general public

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