Last fall, The Next Stage Theatre Company produced Arthur Miller’s “The Price.” This fall, The Next Stage follows it up with eight performances of Miller’s “The Archbishop’s Ceiling.”
This production features a mix of actors who’ve worked with The Next Stage often: Tom McClary, Regina Brannen and Patrick Brannen. Lyn Freymiller makes his Next Stage debut.
“The Archbishop’s Ceiling” focuses on four friends who are connected and divided by a web of politics, art and sex. The entirety of the play takes place during the 1970s and is set in a former Archbishop’s palace in an Eastern European capital in an unnamed Communist Eastern European country, in a room probably bugged by the secret police.
Sigmund, played by McClary, is an internationally known author who has been highly critical of his country’s government. Having embarrassed the current regime, Sigmund is faced with the choice of detention and punishment or defection to the West. He is encouraged in the latter by two of his former friends, also writers, his compatriot Marcus, an ex-political prisoner now in favor with the regime, and Adrian, a visiting American with strongly liberal ideals. The situation is complicated by the presence of Maya, a poet and actress, who has been the mistress of all three.
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“His criticism has earned him harassment from the regime, and some of his friends — writers themselves — are concerned for his safety,” McClary said. “Sigmund’s dilemma is that he must weigh the importance of his individual moral conscience versus the well-being of his family and friends.”
Director Elaine Meder-Wilgus has been working with The Next Stage for several decades now, as an actor, director and as an occasional designer.
“As with all of Miller’s plays, to describe it by plot alone denies most of the thrill of the play,” Meder-Wilgus said. “This group of actors are delightfully adroit in their portrayals of each of these complex characters, and I think audiences will be struck by the prismatic lens that Miller creates in this drama as a means to examine our own lives under constant surveillance of many kinds, whether real or perceived.”
Central to the action and themes of the play is the fact and effects of surveillance, and McClary believes “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” is particularly worthy of production this year because of certain aspects of our 2016 presidential campaign.
“The play takes place in a room in what used to be a 17th century ecclesiastical palace, the ceiling of which is decorated with paintings of angels,” he said. “What the characters must deal with is the very real possibility that this room is ‘bugged’ with microphones, which are placed in the ceiling amongst the angels. Our own presidential race has foregrounded how recordings of words and actions can impact the future. What could be more relevant in a drama in November 2016?”
“I can’t help but think audiences will make comparisons with our current state of surveillance, known or unknown, even though we live differently than these people,” Meder-Wilgus said. “These characters wrestle with truth, creativity, freedom, love and art without great philosophical discussions, and that is certainly a shared experience with everyone in the audience.”
IF YOU GO
- What: The Next Stage’s “The Archbishop’s Ceiling”
- When: 8 p.m. Nov.10-12 and Nov. 17-19 and 3 p.m. Nov. 13 and 20
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org