‘The Road Through Damascus’ explores existential themes

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Existentialism takes a delightful twist when eight seemingly random, small-town strangers come together to ponder the reality of fate.

Students at the University of Idaho (UI) will conduct a staged reading of “The Road Through Damascus,” an original work by UI graduate and playwright Robert Macke.

The story takes place in the small town of Damascus, North Carolina, and focuses on a group of eight people who find themselves reflecting on their lives. Christina Holaday, a third year graduate student in UI’s directing program, directs the show.

“(The show) is a look at whether or not events that happen in our lives are a product of fate or if it’s all just a ripple from other people’s actions,” Holaday said.

One of the characters exploring his fate is the Mayor of Damascus, played by Sean Hendrickson, a fourth year BSA student in theater performance. Hendrickson described the Mayor as similar to the other small-town people, but also prone to following others and with a very addictive personality.

Hendrickson described the play as an existential comedy. It takes the questions one may ask themselves at night and plunges those questions into absurd circumstances.

“Robert’s voice in this text is quite strong,” Hendrickson said. “It’s very human while maintaining that nonrealistic, mythical (feel).”

Rather than a full-fledged production, “The Road Through Damascus” will be presented as a staged reading, meaning the actors will have their scripts in front of them throughout the play.

Because of this method of presenting the script, there is minimal blocking and only stage lights to show the actors, Holaday said. By doing a staged reading, the focus can be on the words, almost like a workshop for the script.

“If we get too much into having lights and things going on, then we start to lose the point of the staged reading: to hear the words and work through the play,” Holaday said.

Hendrickson described staged reading as a theatrical version of speed dating, in which a new play is read and acted out for the playwright to see what works and what doesn’t. It takes a certain degree of understanding from the actors as to what they do and why.

Throughout rehearsals, Macke were in touch with Holaday and the actors and sometimes sent in new or revised pages. This requires a level of adaptability from the actors, Holaday said.

“The opportunity to work on new scripts is interesting and challenging in the best way,” Holaday said. “It presents a lot of different challenges than working with an established script.”

Hendrickson said his first impression upon reading the script was a mixture of constant laughter and confusion.

“(It’s) the kind of laughter you get when you’re reading or watching something and you don’t think you should be laughing but you are,” he said.

Show times “The Road Through Damascus” are 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow and 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Forge Theater in Moscow. The show is free for UI students and $10 general admission.