A strong salty breeze off the Atlantic entered the classroom through an open door as Alicia Hynes rose from her seat to adjust the stance of Napoleon Bonaparte. The actor followed her direction, soaking in her expertise during rehearsal. After all, Hynes did write the play; she’s directing it; she’s even acting in it.
Her new play, entitled “Contrapposto” and written for her senior project, will be staged at the College of the Atlantic Gates Community Center at 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, May 26-27, and 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 28.
“Contrapposto,” an Italian word meaning “counterpose,” describes figures that are posing opposite of each other. In this case, there are two figures: Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci and ancient Greek sculptor Alexandros of Antioch. The play explores the meaning and effect of art through these two artists and their two famous works, the “Mona Lisa” and the “Venus de Milo.”
“The play is about the process artists go through, and it demonstrates why people need art, what purpose it serves,” Hynes said, adding that she explores these themes through comedic and edgy dialogue and action.
The senior project is a culmination of everything a student has been working on during their four years at COA. For Hynes, that was writing, art and, of course, theater. Hynes love for the theater started in high school and while at COA, she has directed three Shakespeare plays and assisted her friend, Daniel Mahle, in the production of “Facades,” a play he wrote for his senior project last spring.
Hynes took drawing and painting courses at COA, and for the fall term of her junior year, she studied in Austria and visited the country’s many art museums and monuments.
“I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of Leonardo before this play,” said Hynes. “I kind of liked Michelangelo better. I’ve been to the Louvre [Museum in Paris, France] and have seen these gorgeous pieces of art all in the same place… but last spring, I woke up and had an idea of having those two pieces [the ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Venus de Milo’] together.”
The two main characters, Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo (who is naked in the play), meet in the Louvre Museum and swap stories of the artists who created them and their experiences as artwork. Da Vinci was hired by a merchant to paint the “Mona Lisa,” while it is said that Alexandros divinely inspired to sculpt the Venus de Milo. Da Vinci painted what he saw, without perfecting his subject, while Alexandros created an idolized figure, a goddess – two very different approaches to art, yet both pieces are regarded as masterpieces.
“There’s a lot of sexual innuendos and tensions going on,” said Hynes. “Leonardo was gay, something you could be killed for at that time; so it’s about what his character was going through. And he’s not very fond of his subject, Mona Lisa.”
Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” sculpture is another one of the 30-plus characters that will grace the stage.
“Most of the play is based on factual stuff,” said Hynes. “I did a lot of research before sitting down to write it.”
Napoleon, played by Alex Depavlof, enters the story when the “Mona Lisa” is hung in his bedroom for three years. On Tuesday, he rehearsed a scene with his butler, Bourienne, played by the former COA president David Hales, who retired last year and has made it a tradition to act in student plays.
COA, founded in 1969 as an alternative to a traditional liberal arts college, offers one undergraduate degree: human ecology. And each student must complete four years of coursework and a senior project to their faculty advisors approval.
Though there isn’t a theater club or drama classes, Hynes is never short of actors for their performances. Approximately 30 out of the 364 undergraduates at COA are involved in theater, said Hynes.
“Not many people here have studied acting, but a lot of people love getting involved in theater,” said Hynes.
The cast is a mix of experienced and inexperienced actors. Philip Kunhardt, who was cast as Alexandros, has performed in six plays while at COA. But Hynes also thinks it’s great when students who have never acted before show up for an audition, and she tries to find a part for everyone.
Hynes brought freshman Jabu Mickle-Molefe on board with her project as assistant director with hopes that she’ll want to continue to help produce plays after Hynes graduates from COA this spring.
“There’s a group on campus – we want to keep theater happening,” said Mickle-Molefe. “We want to start a theater club in the fall called ‘Stage Craft’ or something equally dorky … There’s such a return [in doing theater]. You can see the result of your efforts, and it’s fun to do this because the people are great to be around.”
This summer Hynes will be interning under the artistic director at the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia. She then plans to study for her masters degree at Mary Baldwin College, also in Virginia, and then to bring Shakespeare back to her home state.
“I want to bring classical theater to Maine year-round,” Hynes said. “And for it to be accessible to lobstermen and really anyone who wants to come to a show.”
“Contrapposto,” which contains nudity and adult language, will run about 1.5 hours, broken up by an intermission. For information, call the College of the Atlantic at 288-5015.