By: Jennifer Phan
The Sun Arrives Later, CATS first student-directed and produced play, made its debut on February 16 and 17 to an outstanding success. The play grapples with its center conflict of conformity versus non-conformity through the life of Edward (Daniel O’Hare), a schizophrenic accountant in a dystopian world, his adventure to the Bass Café, house of the strange and the eccentric, and his adventure of self-discovery to reconcile between social expectations and personal longings. Told in witty dialogues and enacted through superb students performances, The Sun Arrives Later has not only set precedent as the first student-led production but also high standards for theatre in our community.
I had the chance to sit down with Gabriela Santana Taveras, the director of The Sun Arrives Later, to talk about inspirations, themes, and the possibility of a play within a play.
The title, The Sun Arrives Later, is a perfect embodiment of time as a social construct, a recurring theme in the play. It also reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Would you say that your title was inspired by Hemingway’s? Were there other works that influenced your creative process?
Yes, I was definitely inspired by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, especially in the sense that the characters in my play were also modeled after real people. I also drew inspiration from some of my favorite plays of all time, Waiting for Godot, Equus, and Nice Fish. But I tried not to rely too heavily on classics and existing works, because this is, after all, experimental theater.
Can you tell me more about experimental theater and your experience with it?
Definitely. I think my understanding of experimental theater comes largely from my time at the American Repertory Theater. What we did for the whole first week at the ART was coming up with ideas, and somehow they all came together to create a coherent piece, World Sick. That was what I did for The Sun Arrives Later. I had ideas, but there was no concrete story. We started off with a rough draft and a single question, “Would you choose to conform to society?”, and the actors added on to the plot from there. The play as it was performed must be in its seventeenth-something version, but who’s counting, you know?
Writing a play together from scratch, that must have been very challenging for everyone.
It was, and we struggled quite a bit at the beginning. We actually lost quite a few people after the first few rehearsals. But the people who chose to stay really stepped up their roles and made it happen. The exciting part about experimental theater is, instead of having the actors adjusting for the roles, the actors can adjust their roles to what they see fit. Vladimir is absolutely made for the role for Homeless Many. On the other hand, Peace (Alice Nguyen), the hippie, was built upon Alice’s many suggestions and inputs – the monologue was her idea. And for John (Horacio Ramirez) and William (Caden Stone), I did not initially have any specific plans for them, but Horacio and Caden really took the initiatives and bringing the characters to life.
The actors’ performances went above and beyond my expectations as well. Speaking of John and William, I did notice the chemistry between them. It’s hard to miss out on that, with William comparing the colors of light in the universe to the color of John’s eyes and everything.
I’m glad you caught that! With John and William, and Charlie (Gigi Lai) and Julia (Saule Pranskaityte) portrayed as same-sex couples, Edward and Lily (Sandrine Veilleux) as a heterosexual couple, and Jean as a transgender, I really want to represent the whole spectrum.
That’s interesting; I did not notice that Jean was a transgender.
Jean was supposed to be transgender, and only Sebastian (Pranav Sultania) sees Jean for who she is. The casting did not go to plan, however, so that might have been a bit hard to notice.
Representing the whole spectrum, is that the underlying political message that you want to get across to your audience?
Yes and no. I’d say that it’s part of the larger theme of conformity versus nonconformity. You see, when I first became a part of the ART ensemble, I was really shocked. There were gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and even a transgender in the cast. The LGBTQ community is very under-represented in my country, and so, although I did not have any prejudices against them, it felt odd at first. Representation, I realized, it’s very important. I want my art to bring the LGBTQ community into the spotlight. I want to show everyone that we are all the same. I mean, John and William have a more child-like affection for each other, while Charlie and Julia’s relationship is more serious where there are responsibilities involved. But, in the end, love is love.
You said that the LGBTQ visibility is only part of the overarching theme of conformity and non-conformity. What are the other aspects in this conflict?
I think there are few subdivisions: ordinary lives versus the extraordinary lives of the artists, time as defined by society versus time inside Edward’s mine and the flow of time inside the Bass Café, civilization, as embodied by the Doctor (Norah Laoui), versus the wilderness, Homeless Many and the Tainos (Victoria Shi, Anna Merzliakova, and Shirley Li), and reality and Edward’s version of it.
Edward’s version of reality – can you tell me more about that?
So the play starts with Edward at the Doctor’s office right? Edward talks about his anxiety and hallucinations, but he says that the Doctor won’t ever understand, to which the Doctor urges him to explain it to her. At the end, when the police (Amber Nguyen and the production team) has shut down the Café, Homeless Many asks Edward to join him in the jungle, the Doctor also comes out from behind and asks Edward to come with her instead.
Since the play ends there, are you leaving it open to interpretation?
Or maybe everything, the Café, the artists, the police, is all in his head.
Wait, so none of it actually happens?
It is open to interpretation.