by Lorie Lewis Ham
Fresno State University Theatre is presenting its fifth virtual production of their 2020-2021 mainstage season. It will be available to view May 7-15 and is called The Agony of Ecstasy. KRL took a moment to chat with the show’s director, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Fresno State Gina Sandi-Diaz, about the show.
KRL: What is The Agony of Ecstasy about?
Gina: This show is a compilation of four short plays discussing gender and power. Sabina Berman, one of Mexico’s most prominent playwrights, explores the performative aspects of gender and its impact on the power dynamics at the heart of human relationships. The Moustache introduces us to a couple who struggles to accept their true selves and has resorted to using a fake mustache to ‘perform’ gender in public; The Love Nest explores the toxic patriarchal construct of femininity in the triad of “virgin,” “mother,” and “whore”; The Pistol is about a married couple that fights over the control of a pistol the husband brought home for protection. Or is there an ulterior motive? Finally, in Teeth, calling attention to the barbaric torture chambers found all over Latin America during the repressive dictatorships, a sadistic dentist and his nurse terrorize the mouth of a client. Or is she hallucinating it all? We shall see… This production delivers punch after punch in a rollercoaster of emotion and passion.
KRL: Why was this particular show chosen and how did you find out about it?
Gina: In our department, decisions for the season are made collectively. This year, we had to adapt to the social distancing guidelines in place due to the pandemic, adding more complexity to the season selection. Being from Latin America, I am familiar with the Spanish-language cannon, so I was searching for a translation of Paloma Pedrero’s Noches de Amor Efimero, which I thought could work. In searching Pedrero’s work, I came across Adam Versenyi’s translation of The Agony of Ecstasy. I already loved Berman’s work but was unfamiliar with these short pieces. I read them, loved them, and here we are…
KRL: Why do you feel this show is especially important right now?
Gina: I think the themes discussed in these plays are timeless and universal. Berman is zooming in on the consequences of the imposed gender norms of patriarchal society imposes on people, showing us the toxic distortions it caused in relationships.
KRL: Is it a musical or a straight play?
Gina: It’s a straight play. I will describe the style as a little absurdist, with a hint of grim humor.
KRL: Is it a show originally written to be performed virtually or did you have to adapt it for a virtual presentation?
Gina: Berman wrote these plays in the ‘70s (I think), but they were not published until the ’90s. They were designed to be performed in a theatre. We did have to adapt the creative process to create a filmed-theatrical experience, but theatre and all its magic are still the fuel of this production.
KR: Was the show filmed, or will it be streaming live?
Gina: The show was filmed in the Woods Theatre at Fresno State and edited for virtual streaming.
KRL: What was the filming process like?
Gina: The filming process was a whole new experience for me. It was hard and challenging and very rewarding at the end because of so much I’ve learned from this experience. I want to use this opportunity to thank all my collaborators (designers, crew, camera operators, stage management team) for their support throughout this process.
KRL: What sort of safety precautions did you have to take due to Covid for rehearsals and filming?
Gina: We followed strict COVID-19 protocols which included social distancing during rehearsals, the use of masks and face shields at all times, and the sanitation of surfaces and props.
KRL: Did you work with other Fresno State departments to film this?
Gina: This show was produced internally by our department. Many of our students have an interest and experience in video and film so this provided an opportunity for some of them to hone their skills. Students operated the cameras during the filming and the video editing was done by local video/film specialist, Kyle Lowe.
KRL: What special challenges have you faced in putting this show together?
Gina: All theatre productions are challenging. I think theatre artists enjoy challenges because it is always challenging to produce art collectively, and yet we do it time and time again. That being said, directing a play from the perspective of three cameras was definitely a special challenge I had never encountered before.
KRL: When and how will the show be available for viewing?
Gina: The show will stream May 7-15. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. with the exception of Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m., and no show on Monday night.
KRL: How much are the tickets and how do you purchase them?
Gina: Tickets are $15 (General Admission), $10 for students and can be purchased here: bit.ly/AgonyTix
A talkback with the translator, Adam Versenyí will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 9. Audience members can register for the talkback by visiting bit.ly/AgonyTalkBack
KRL: Anything else that you would like to share?
Gina: Yes, I want to thank Kings River Life for doing this interview with me and I want to invite all people out there to come join us for a fun evening with our talented students. Thank you!
KRL: Thank you for chatting with us!
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts, and also on Podbean.
Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.