Kate Caffrey puts the potato blight in the modern light

(Students in professor Caffrey's class rehearse a scene from "Mother's Bliss, Mother's Woe." Photo by Ashley Wall.)

When students enrolled in Communication Arts Professor Kate Caffrey’s Theater Production course, they had no idea what they were in for.

Her students are currently working on staging a production of “Mother’s Bliss, Mother’s Woe,” an original play by Caffrey herself.

The students in the Theater Production course are not the only ones working on the show, however. Members of the Framingham community were allowed to audition as well, but students in the class were obliged to either be in the cast or take on an equally crucial role in the backstage crew. Some were even designated positions on multiple committees, often jumping between roles in cast and crew.

The class sessions are when most of the behind-the-scenes work of the production is done. Maria Hornbaker, a senior and the PR crew chief for the play, said the chiefs of sound, lights, set, props, and others meet during their 4:30 classes. In addition, cast and crew members may be called for rehearsals at 6:30 on the DPAC stage, depending on the people needed for specific scenes and transitions.

Caffrey said the original inspiration for the play was her great-grandmother, a woman who escaped the potato blight in Ireland as a little girl and came to America. She settled in Connecticut and eventually raised six children before ultimately committing suicide. Caffrey wrote the play with a couple of distinct themes in mind.

First – the immigrant experience. Writing the majority of the work during the 2016 presidential election, Caffrey’s mind was brimming with discussions of xenophobia and bigoted statements toward immigrants, and her play is consequently laced with these undertones.

Second, Caffrey wanted to discuss mental illness, and more specifically, what it meant to be a mother struggling with mental illness in the context of the mid- tolate-1800s.

Finally, the play focuses on women’s issues. Caffrey says that all the characters in the play are supposed to be strong, but the two protagonists are sisters fighting against the antagonistic priest figure, who represents oppressive patriarchal dominance.

In anticipation of their mid-November opening, everyone involved in the show is shifting into high gear. Although the cast members sound excited, some are still worried about getting off-book in time. An added struggle in this regard is the challenge of acting in a full Irish dialect.

Senior Marielle Sciore, who plays the nun Peg Horan, said although she enjoys working on “Mother’s Bliss, Mother’s Woe” because it has never been staged and she gets to experiment with the role, the dialect is challenging for her. “I end up sounding like Shrek,” she joked. She has also been challenged by the difference in personality between her and her character. Sciore explained that while she is more “led by the heart,” Peg is much more rational and disciplined.

Senior Stephen Donnelly plays a teenager named Jamie, who is forced to grow up quickly as a result of his mother dying, but remains a child at heart. Donnelly’s biggest struggle thus far has been the time commitment, as he was required to take on a dual role on the sound production team. However, he loved doing the stage combat workshop with another communication arts professor, Sarah Cole.

The students in this theater production class are not only learning what it takes to be great performers or crew members, but, they are learning what it takes to collaborate and create a unified product. Sciore said the work is “hands-on. It’s a great way to work on teamwork. Especially for kids that don’t usually do theater, it can be a great way to break out of your shell and perform something, and you can see that it’s not that easy!”

“Mother’s Bliss, Mother’s Woe” premieres Nov. 15 in DPAC at 7 p.m., with additional performances on the 16th and 17th.

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