Delta Drama takes on themes of morality, justice with 'The Visit' - Lodinews.com: Arts And Entertainment

Delta Drama takes on themes of morality, justice with 'The Visit'

By Kyla Cathey/Lodi Living Editor | Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 4:30 pm

What would you do to save your town?

For the residents of Güllen, a fictional Swiss town, the question is more than theoretical. The town’s native daughter, Claire Zachanassian, has become a famous billionaire, and the townspeople hope she might give them the funds needed to revitalize the run-down, fading town.

Claire agrees — but her financial gift will come at a terrible cost.

San Joaquin Delta College’s drama department is taking on “The Visit,” a tragicomic play by the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The play was first performed in 1956 and has been translated to English, but while it remains popular in Switzerland and Germany, it’s flown under the radar in the U.S.

At least, it did until 2015, when a musical version opened on Broadway.

“That’s when people really started to know it, but the actual play has been around about half a century,” said Greg Foro, associate professor of drama at Delta.

The play is both terrifying and funny, a masterpiece of German expressionism. The cast and crew has aimed for a “Tim Burton” vibe, Foro said.

“It’s not something that people are really familiar with, but we’re trying to make it accessible,” he said.

In “The Visit,” Claire and the people of Güllen learn that their memories of her time in the town are sharply different. Claire was left pregnant and alone by her former lover, and when she turned to the courts for help, false witnesses led the judge to side with her ex. She was essentially exiled from her home.

Since leaving the town, she’s become ridiculously wealthy, and now she’s back for a reckoning — she’ll help the town, but only if they agree to break from morality and commit a crime for her.

“If it was just tragedy, we could feel bad about the story or empathy for the people, but I don’t think that’s what the playwright wanted,” Foro said.

Instead, Dürrenmatt was making a political statement on themes like women’s rights — at the time he wrote the play, women in Switzerland could not vote — as well as justice and corruption, poverty, vengeance and forgiveness.

But satire is another theme, and while the play is dark, it also embraces comedy.

Joining the cast of Delta College students are two local actors with a wealth of experience between them.

Mary Hurley will play Claire. She’s acted in the local area for years, including in previous Delta productions like “The Rimers of Eldritch.” She’s an adjunct instructor at both Delta and Modesto Junior College, and has previously taught at Truman State University, Humboldt State University and St. Louis Community College.

“She’s been a pillar of the community — the theatre community, anyway — in the area,” Foro said.

Richard Garvin has taken on the role of Alfred III, Claire’s ex-love. Garvin has been involved in Delta Drama for quite some time, and acts in and directs plays locally. He’s worked with Changing Faces Theatre Company in Lodi in the past.

“(The students are) having a great time,” Foro said. “One of the things I find so positive about this experience is that students can come in ... and it’s really helpful for them to see these two guest actors come in and play these major roles.”

Students in Delta Drama have a wide variety of experience — or sometimes no experience at all — so getting to work with two veteran actors has taught them a lot, he said.

While some of the students were skeptical of the play at first, as they’ve rehearsed they’ve come to enjoy it, Foro said.

“It’s been an interesting journey. I think at first a lot of them didn’t know what to make of it,” he said. “It’s a really strange play.”