The play's the thing at Fairfield University

Faculty and administrators turn actors, using theater as a teaching tool

Image: Life of RileyThe Academy Players of Fairfield University will present Alan Ayckbourn's play "Life of Riley" at the Wien Experimental Theater at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts from Wednesday, Oct. 1 through Saturday, Oct 4 at 8 p.m. The amateur production is free for faculty and students, and $20 for the public. Seating is limited. For tickets, call (203) 254-4010, 1-877-ARTS-396 (toll free) or visit

George Riley is given a life-threatening diagnosis, just before a group of his friends are about to put on an amateur play (a different Alan Ayckbourn play). What if George is given a part in the play to keep his spirits up? The result reveals how his imminent death affects long-hidden relationships, unmet romantic yearnings and potential betrayals among a disparate group of couples in a quiet English suburb.

The cast includes Jerelyn Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of modern languages and literatures; Dennis Keenan, Ph.D., professor of philosophy; Donald Gibson, Ph.D., dean of the University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business; and Shawn Rafalski, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics; with Andrea Macadam and Dawn DeBiase, assistant dean of the Dolan School of Business. It is directed by Alistair Highet, director of communications.  This is the fourth play the group has produced as part of an ongoing interdisciplinary academic experiment at the University, continuing the project they started with "Perpetual Peace" (2011) "Glengarry Glen Ross" (2012), and "Way to Heaven" (2013).

As with the other productions, students will be attending the public performances as part of their studies, and the play will be discussed in courses in politics, modern languages and literatures, English, communication, nursing, and marriage and family therapy. In effect, the play is an exercise in integrative pedagogy - bringing faculty and students together from a number of disciplines to examine a dimension of their studies, a learning experience made deeply experiential and tangible through the medium of the theater. Each performance will be followed by a different faculty-led discussion.

"Our goal, always, is to coordinate issues addressed in the plays with courses being taught during the semester in which we produce them, or that might be of general interest to departments and programs of the University," Dr. Johnson said. "In this way, we model how the humanities serve as a centralizing presence here at Fairfield University."

Ayckbourn is an Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright and one of Britain's most prolific and admired contemporary playwrights, best know for his satirical comedies about middle class English life, the follies of romance, and the skirmish between the sexes. An inheritor of the traditions of the British drawing room comedy, he marries those conventions and the structures of farce to the rueful exploration of more Chekhovian themes - unrequited love and thwarted ambitions.

The Guardian's theater critic and Ayckbourn biographer Michael Billington has said of Ayckbourn, his "plays are anything but cozy. They seduce audiences with the promises of sweets, yet they slip them the bitter pill of recognition. And increasingly leave them in a state of prickly discomfort. Ayckbourn gives theatregoers a good night out. But he also leaves them asking themselves, "are we really like that?'"

Major successes include "Absurd Person Singular" (1975), "The Norman Conquests" trilogy (1973), "Bedroom Farce" (1975), "Just Between Ourselves" (1976), "A Chorus of Disapproval" (1984), "Woman in Mind" (1985), "A Small Family Business" (1987), "Man of the Moment" (1988), "House & Garden (1999) and "Private Fears in Public Places" (2004). His plays have won numerous awards, including seven London Evening Standard Awards. They have been translated into more than 35 languages and are performed on stage and television throughout the world. Many of his plays have been staged on Broadway, attracting two Tony nominations, and one Tony award.

"Life Of Riley" is Alan Ayckbourn's 74th play and premiered on September 21, 2010 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. The North American premiere of the play took place in April 2011 at The Old Globe, San Diego. Acclaimed French film director Alain Resnais, who had previously adapted two other Ayckbourn plays, made a film of "Life Of Riley" entitled "Aimer, Boire et Chanter" shortly before his death. The film premiered on February 10, 2014 at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer prize. An American theatrical premiere is expected this year.

Sponsors of the play include the Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Dolan School of Business, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, as well as several other University departments, including the departments of Communication, English, Marriage and Family Therapy, Modern Languages and Literatures, Politics, Religious Studies, and Sociology and Anthropology, and the programs in Peace and Justice Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Applied Ethics, and Catholic Studies, and the Honors Program.

"It is gratifying to witness how this project brings together apparently disparate members of the University community to form a cohesive unit: the faculty and staff who produce and act in the play, the professors conducting the post-performance discussions, and students studying the play from a variety of disciplines," Dr. Johnson said.

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950,

Posted on September 11, 2014

Vol. 47, No. 45

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