School of Theatre to take the stage for ‘Les Miserables’

Matthews – Mint Hill Weekly

(Front row) Caitlin O’Brien as Marius and Kendall Quade as Marguerite, a factory worker; (Back row) Zane Bernard as Jean Valjean and Cecilia Eure also playing Marguerite. Photo courtesy of Matthews Playhouse

MATTHEWS – Dr. Margaret Wrenn Goodrum believes acting is more than just words spoken on stage; she feels it’s an opportunity to cultivate an understanding of real-world issues through connecting actors and audience members with the purpose of the story.

“Acting is not only enlightening (actors) about acting skills performed on stage, but also letting them look out onto the world and see how theater can make a difference,” Goodrum said.

That’s why she chose the non-musical version of the play “Les Misérables” for her School of Theatre intermediate- and senior-level classes to perform at Matthews Playhouse.

Performances take place Saturday, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 8, at 2 p.m., at Fullwood Theater, part of the Matthews Community Center, located at 100 McDowell St.

Set in the early 1800s, “Les Misérables” chronicles Jean Valjean’s journey from stealing bread to feed his starving family, to prison and life after prison, where he’s faced with the same choice – steal or start over.

Valjean is saved from another stint in prison when a priest gifts him the candlesticks he’s stolen. Instead of continuing with a life of crime, Valjean transforms, builds a business, becomes mayor and saves his former factory worker, the abused Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, from a life of destitution. All of the while, Valjean is being chased by Javert, a relentless police inspector determined to maintain law and order.

Goodrum, who directs at several Charlotte-area companies, said she previously directed the play and has read the novel by Victor Hugo. She said Hugo’s personal commitment to injustice compelled her to include two new characters in the play, casted as Hugo’s voice.

The characters will quote Hugo and passages from the novel to emphasize the significance of social issues addressed in the play.

For example, when Valjean is faced with changing his life or reverting to criminal activity, actress Emily Rheault will say, “Before him he saw two roads, both equally straight; but he did see two; and that terrified him – he who had never in his life known anything but one straight line. And bitter anguish, these two roads were contradictory.”

There’s also a piece involving both Voices of Hugo, played by Rheault and Hannah Walker, where they discuss how society allows the cycle of poverty and abuse to continue.

“I want the words of Victor Hugo to go into the viewers and actors consciousness … to make them think twice about passing up a homeless person,” Goodrum said,

Goodrum believes a good play and good acting are synonymous with breaking barriers of understanding. She said the only way she can truly teach her students to become better actors is by pushing them out of their comfort zones.

“Les Misérables” addresses topics that include extreme poverty, physical and sexual abuse of women, prostitution and prison life. In order to understand these issues as they relate to the story, Goodrum said she gave performers research assignments focusing on these issues and Hugo’s life philosophies. She also worked with the actors individually on character development.

Goodrum, who graduated with a theater degree from North Carolina School of the Arts said, the method is “about finding the truth in what these characters are saying.”

A couple of young actresses have taken on male roles in the production. Victoria Hargett, a 16-year-old Union County resident, will play Inspector Javert.

“Before I even auditioned for the role, many people told me, ‘Oh, you can’t be Javert, you’re a girl,’ or ‘You’ll never be cast, you’re not manly enough.’  Nothing brought me more joy than breaking these preconceived ideas that my gender could limit my capabilities,” she said.

Cailtin O’Brien, a 12-year-old Charlotte resident, will play Marius Gillenormand, Cosette’s lover.

“At first I wasn’t sure I wanted the role of Marius. I am a girl, and I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with playing a man who is in love with a woman,” Caitlin said “… I took the chance, and I am very glad I did. To be honest, it was a little awkward at first, but I learned that it’s all just acting.”

Caitlin believes Goodrum provided the right direction to help her succeed.

“She was very supportive and helped me along the way, and now I am very comfortable with the role,” Caitlin said. “I definitely grew as an actor, and I think I could accept any role in the future.”

Goodrum said it’s important for actors to push through their comfort zones to be successful on stage and in life. She added, as the Valjean character has two choices, “We can make those two choices, the comfortable (or) uncomfortable … do that thing that feels uncomfortable (or) do the right thing.”

Find more information and purchase tickets at http://www.matthewsplayhouse.com.

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