by Amelia Dornbush Dramaturgy/Education Apprentice
I kind of think of being a dramaturg as being like a prairie dog. For each show, I dive into different interconnected holes. One hole leads to another, even if it may not seem like that on the surface. For this show, I researched (among other things) alpha and beta hydroxys, American feminism over the past 70 years, and the process of distilling alcohol out of a can of sterno. I also learned about the psychology behind abuse and statistics regarding the way in which women are represented in the media.
Emotional Abuse. Stockholm Syndrome. The objectification and sexualization of women.
These are not themes that you would typically associate with a comedic play. Or, if you were to, you might assume that the play would either not be very funny and/or would be very offensive. And yet, Laufer’s Out of Sterno is an excellent comedy that wrestles with exactly these themes. Its portrayal of navigating the world of gender conventions has caused me to bust my sides laughing in the rehearsal room. Its heightened, exaggerated style creates a sense of joy amongst actors and audience alike.
Indeed, it is because of this comedic joy that Laufer is able to so effectively discuss the pressing questions of emotional abuse and misogyny.
The rehearsal room for this show was truly a remarkable place.While writing this note, I found myself laughing at what was happening on stage. Yet, in discussions between scenes, very serious conversations about the cycle of abuse and the nature of feminism take place. Furthermore, at least for me personally, these conversations continued well after the day’s work ended. I was horrified to learn that a 2011 study showed that over 60 percent of women ages 18-35 report being abused, and 29 percent say that they have been in an abusive relationship.
Laufer tackles these issues with subtlety. She specifies very clearly that Hamel should seem more stupid than sinister. This, along with the important role of magazines in the show, places the onus of responsibility not on any particular individual, but on society as a whole. Hamel is not excused from his behavior, but we are also not allowed to believe that the problem only lies with him. Laufer makes us laugh, experience joy, and reflect during this show. By doing so, she poses the question: Have we made our own way out of Sterno?
*GSC Blog posts are the select opinions of individual employees and may not necessarily reflect the views of Gloucester Stage as a whole.