Arts & Culture

Childhood dreamworld gets sur(real) stage adaptation

Ten year-old Annelie, fierce, straightforward and unusually imaginative, has been sent to live with her grandmother for an indefinite period of time. When she realizes her family is breaking apart, her dreams take her to the depths of the night, a colorful and often scary place where she tries to make sense of the world.

“Annelie in the Depths of the Night,” the final play in the University Theatre’s Year of the Book, was adapted from a book of the same title by Dutch author Imme Dros. Jennifer Schlueter, an assistant professor of theater arts at the University, adapted the novel into a script.

“This thing that is happening to Annelie is scary and sad, but the book addresses it in this really matter-of-fact way, and it was really moving to me,” Schlueter said. “There was nothing extra, nothing candified, it was just what it was. In the adaptation, I tried really hard to hang on to that kind of directness in the way the story is told.”

Schlueter came to rehearsals and worked with the actors and the director, theatre arts department head John Schmor, to make adjustments to the script.

“When the playwright is sitting right next to you, you can ask questions and get immediate answers and make changes. We’ve been changing lines and restructuring scenes as we go,” Schmor said.

With more than 70 actors auditioning through three rounds of callbacks, the selection process for Annelie was particularly competitive. Senior Gwenmarie White plays Annelie, her first leading role in a mainstage production.

“This one is just so fun because I get to be really vulnerable,” White said. “There’s so much to feel in this show.”

White said the play is about “love and loss,” as her character comes to terms with the truth of her life.   

“You don’t always get what you want, and things don’t always turn out the way you think they should,” White said. “I think one of the big themes is sort of dealing with the hand you’re dealt and just making the best of what’s happening in your life.”

Annelie meets a variety of characters in her dreams, including tap-dancing mice, a Frockwoman and a hedgehog. Her two friends, the Moon and the Mouseking, accompany her through her dreamworld.

Sophomore Charlie Van Duyn plays the Mouseking, an emotional mouse with a red “mouse-tache,” which Annelie later paints green. He declares himself the king of the mice because of his green mustache.

Van Duyn said that he connects with his character because the Mouseking is like Van Duyn when he was younger. He added that the play “tells it how it is.”

“We’re not pulling any punches,” Van Duyn said. “The arguments that (Annelie’s) Mommy and Daddy have are arguments that a mommy and daddy might actually have with their child in the next room. It’s that terrifying, sinking feeling as a child when you know that things aren’t right. But the theme of it is that you are not your mommy and daddy, you are yourself. And, you can push through whatever their issues might be to define who you are as your own person.”

“Annelie” will tour elementary and middle schools in rural Oregon for three weeks in September, using a shortened version of the script and simplified sets.

Schlueter compared the script of “Annelie” to the film version of “Where the Wild Things Are,” in that the story portrays childhood in a way that is honest and “not sugar-coated.”

Van Duyn agreed, adding that childhood and growing up are important themes in “Annelie.”

“I think that kids have so much more to offer us,” Van Duyn said. “We have so much more to learn from kids than we give them credit for. The amount of courage that they have and the number of difficulties they go through is something that everyone can relate to. Everybody’s had a rough childhood in one way or another.”

Schmor and junior Jameson Tabor composed original songs and a tap dance number for the play during winter term. Schmor last directed “Big River,” also a musical. He said he enjoyed working with Schlueter’s original script and working with the cast.

“Everyone is excellent,” Schmor said. “They’ve been all working really hard. The mice who do the tap dance number were not tap dancers when we started, and they’ve really learned this number. They’re very funny, imaginative people.”

White, who plays Annelie, said that she has enjoyed working with Schmor and Annelie’s close-knit cast.

“John’s a great director because he doesn’t waste any time,” White said. “He knows what he wants from you, and he will tell you, but then he also lets you explore it. He cares about what the actor is feeling.

As her dreams continue, it becomes clear that Annelie is falling ill. She begins to remember the arguments between her parents and must learn to differentiate between wishes and reality, as well as between her family and herself.

“It’s a pretty sad play, but I think it has a hopeful ending,” White said. “I think you have hope for Annelie. The Mouseking and Moon are trying to teach her that she can do all this stuff on her own. You get the idea that she can, that she can be on her own.”

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