The theater department has once again brought a somber, thought-provoking play to Covenant’s stage with their recent production of Consumption by Courtney Baron.
In the span of an hour and fifteen minutes, four characters in four different parts of the country are united in a meditative dream state as they each suffer the final stages of consumption (now called tuberculosis) together. The characters are young men and women whose lives have barely begun: Hannah, a nurse who has only had the chance to serve, never to love; Nathaniel, wealthy and longing to be at university with his peers; Pearl, a mother married at sixteen who can’t bear to be separated from her infant son; and Gideon, a preacher who left his mother’s oppressive home to serve the Lord only to be plagued by guilt wherever he runs. Together, these characters present the audience with a poignant picture of loss, faithfulness, and regret in the face of death.
Professor Camille Hallstrom, the show’s director, chose to use accents prominently in Consumption, both to demonstrate the different backgrounds of the four main characters and to make it clear when the actors have slipped into a new role as a part of their cast-mates’ stories. Often these accents, in combination with slight costume changes and altered manners, were helpful in differentiating narratives. However, they could also be distracting at points, drawing the audience’s attention away from the importance of the words being said. For example, when Hannah, played by Abigail DeGraaf (‘17), remembers her parents, there was a dissonance between Noah Lloyd and Bethany Hicks’s middle-class American accents and Hannah’s faintly Germanic accent.
The script calls for actors to frequently switch between their main character and people from other characters’ past lives, and each of the four cast members did this excellently. DeGraaf, acting for her Senior Integration Project (SIP), did an outstanding job as Hannah, guiding the progression of the play from one disconnected scene to another with grace and conviction.
Bethany Hicks, another senior acting for her SIP, portrayed both the innocence of youth and the pride of motherhood well. It was particularly fascinating to watch her portray not only the character of Pearl fawning over her baby, but also both Gideon and Hannah’s mothers.
Playing the spoiled youth, alumnus Matthew Mindeman additionally portrayed a frightening Puritan minister and a young husband struggling to accept the impending tragedy. Mindeman demonstrated his versatility and astuteness as an actor, earning acclaim at Covenant even as an alumnus.
Noah Lloyd beautifully embodied the bitterness, regret, and confusion that come with broken family relationships through his character, Gideon. It is Lloyd’s character who most visibly wrestles with the tension between a legalistic God and a merciful God, and it was his cry that he regrets no longer serving a vengeful God which will linger most uncomfortably with the audience after the play.
One of Consumption’s most memorable features was its periodic breaking of the fourth wall. When the characters argued about whether they want to be cried over or not, Hannah stoically noted that the audience doesn’t know the four of them and consequently will not miss them, making the somber moment painfully convicting for those watching. Near the end of the play, Hannah again drew viewers uncomfortably into the narrative by reminding us that everyone is dying—even those of us hidden in the darkened auditorium. These instances, aided by DeGraaf’s skill, made Consumption more than just another sad story. We may not live in fear of tuberculosis any longer, but everyone experiences loss and we eventually leave what we have worked to become in this world behind.
Throughout the play, the lights shone on a simple white backdrop which gently enhanced the mood of each scene. They turned rosy orange when Gideon remembered his baptism at dawn, they were bright red during the disorienting dream scenes, and they became a soft blue when the characters remembered childhood homes. When the patients reach their worst state and death seems inevitably close, the whole stage was brightly lit in stark white. Though subtle, the lighting contributed a great deal to the performance. Similarly, the simple set was well thought out. Throughout the play, the stage was set with four different beds which carried small but significant clues about the four characters.
Watching Consumption was not a comfortable experience. From the extended chorus of coughs at its very beginning to Hannah’s explanation of the graveyard cough in the final scene, the audience was confronted with the pain that comes with death, especially early death, and with the inevitable mortality in each of our lives. Covenant’s performance was particularly powerful due to the college environment. The four characters, as well as the cast who portrayed them, are college age, so the themes of grief and doubt feel close to home at this college.
Overall Covenant’s production was well thought out, excellently performed, deeply poignant, and soberingly thought provoking. DeGraaf, Hicks, Mindeman, and Lloyd exhibited the struggles of suffering and death, leading the audience to consider how these themes infiltrate each of our worlds.