Faculty Star in Play "Way to Heaven" at the Quick
“Way to Heaven,” a thought-provoking play by award-winning Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga, will be presented on Wednesday, September 25 through Saturday, September 28 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, September 29 at 2 p.m. in the Wien Experimental Theater of the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Tickets are $20 for the general public.
Loosely based on true events, the play centers on a visit by the Red Cross to the concentration camp of Theresiandstadt during World War II. The Germans created a model village — with a synagogue, school, and playgrounds — in order to hide the true nature of the Final Solution. “Way to Heaven” presents the Commandant of the camp, as he works to create the “play” of the model village, and a handful of Jewish internees who are compelled to act in the play, forced to pretend that they are unaware of the machinery of the holocaust that is all around them.
University faculty, administrators and alumni are involved in the production both on stage and off. Among the cast members are: Dr. Donald Gibson, dean, Charles F. Dolan School of Business; Dr. Dennis Keenan, professor of philosophy; Dr. Shawn Rafalski, associate professor of mathematics; Dr. Steven Sawin, professor of mathematics; Dr. Janet Struili, assistant professor of mathematics; and Dr. Jerelyn Johnson, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. This is the third play the group has produced, continuing the project they started with “Perpetual Peace” (2011) and “Glengarry Glen Ross” (2012).
The faculty involved see the production, in part, as a teaching tool for their classes and the play is on the syllabi of about a dozen courses this semester. “This is a way of being able to use theatre in an active engagement with our students,” said Dr. Johnson, who is also one of the play’s producers. “It’s another avenue of inquiry, an innovative way to use theatre as a teaching tool.”
Each performance will be followed by a different faculty-led discussion, considering the play through the lens of English, politics, modern languages and literatures, philosophy, religious studies, history, and Judaic studies.
Priests in the Society of Jesus, the religious order that founded Fairfield University, have been using theatre as an immersive teaching tool for centuries, said director Alistair Highet, director of advancement and student affairs communications.
“They realized it’s a powerful way to reach people,” Highet said. “For instance, this play is about the Holocaust, a historical event so significant it has the danger of becoming abstract. Through theatre, you’re grounding it in a lived experience. And we wanted a play that addresses the big questions – the big Jesuit questions – about justice and the dignity of the person. It’s an expression of a kind of world-friendly pedagogy.”
Watching professors transform into actors can also have a profound effect on the way their students view their own futures. “In addition to the important questions raised by the play, those of us involved in the production are examples of the lifelong learning the University encourages. We’re not boxed into our own separate areas. We can all continue to try new things and grow throughout our lives,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Keenan, who is a co-producer and actor, said Fairfield welcomes outside-the-box thinking from its professors. “It’s organic. It comes from the bottom up.”
Sponsors for the play include the Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Dolan School of Business and the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, as well as several other academic departments.
“The University has been very supportive,” Johnson said. “At Fairfield, you’re really only limited by your own imagination as to what you can do and the ways you can teach.”
For tickets, visit www.quickcenter.com or call the Box Office at (203) 254-4010.
Above, Dr.'s Shawn Rafalski and Stephen Sawin in rehearsal