Theatre Preview: Newhouse dripping with STDs

By Sherri Shergill

What if a sexually transmitted pandemic raged across North America, but you just couldn’t keep it in your pants? This is the problem challenging the young character in the University of Calgary production of Newhouse, a drama questioning human reaction to social crisis.

Placed in a contemporary Canadian setting, this adaptation of Don Juan and Oedipus Rex, follows the naïve Newhouse through his careless sexual encounters at a time when rational society dissipates into a mess of fearful individuals all trying to deal with the sexually transmitted plague.

“Fear changes the way society deals with each other,” explains director Simon Mallett. “When I was in Toronto during the summer of 2003, SARS made me realize how the fear of the unknown, particularly a health issue, can change social interactions between people.”

Peoples’ reaction in the play are embarrassingly similar to Ontario’s panic two summers ago, but considering both societies lacked sufficient information about the diseases, this isn’t a far stretch.

When SARS was first detected in Canada there was no accurate knowledge of the signs, causes or severity of the virus. As the hospitals tried to contain the epidemic, the government sent out warnings and instructed people to wear masks and stay away from anyone with a cough or a sniffle. Ontarians lived in fear but lacked facts about the disease. The anxiety and dread altered peoples’ interactions, transforming the society itself.

“People stayed out of certain areas of the city, stayed away from certain sections of the population and quarantined themselves off out of fear, when they really didn’t need to be so afraid,” says Mallett. “Panic and fear can really change interpersonal relationships and that’s a central idea in Newhouse. The fear of the unknown is a powerful tool.”

Newhouse allows its audience to see the outbreak from four fundamental points of views, all drastically different, but each understandable and believable in its own right. From Conservative to the leftist Liberal, priest to Prime Minister, average man to ladies man, Newhouse hypothesizes the various reactions to a deadly crisis and confronts the “what ifs” every human is horrified to answer.

The creators, Richard Rose and D.D. Kugler, have produced a script touching on topics all too familiar to North America, delving into the self-serving nature of the political and religious processes.

“At the time of crisis, people further their cause,” Mallett exclaims. “Be aware of the dangers and crisis and how people manipulate it for their own gain.”

The play shines an intense light on the relationships in religion, law and politics and how each can influence peoples’ reactions and persuade them to act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

By bringing Newhouse to a university crowd, Mallett hopes audiences see the relevance to the current world, not only with the spread of diseases, but also with the government’s control over popular opinion and the public’s lack of awareness.

“We’re not preaching a message, but asking important questions for the audience,” says Mallett. “Newhouse is politically and socially engaging.”

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