Four topics not typically considered funny — murder, sex, drugs and politics — make up the primary ingredients in Basement Arts’s latest comedy, “The Altruists.”

The Altruists

Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Friday at 11 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center

The show revolves around Sydney, who accidentally kills a stranger and must go to her brother, the leader of a radical political group, for help. Her brother has his own problems with his new prostitute boyfriend. Throw in a British playboy and a radical lesbian who is not actually a lesbian and what ensues is the award-winning play by Nicky Silver.

In contrast to most stage productions, “The Altruists” has two directors, Jon Manganello and Derek Joseph Tran, both of whom are seniors in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. While having two directors could pose a challenge, the actors find the two different opinions helpful.

“Derek likes to focus on the acting and getting the naturalistic portrayal across and Jon likes to focus on the big picture, so its not like they’re completely contrasting in their styles of direction,” said MT&D junior Joe Dunn, who plays Sydney’s British boyfriend Ethan. “They really complement each other.”

Suggestions flow between the directors and the cast, and good ideas are never sacrificed to maintain a particular vision held by the directors. The actors are at liberty to try anything they want, often performing the same scene multiple ways until they deliver the best possible performance.

“As a director, I want to encourage my actors to be fearless and to come into the rehearsal room and bring something because they all have better ideas than I could ever have,” Manganello said. “I want my actors to experiment and to play and to really go all out because I think that’s the most interesting theater.”

A deeper message about the hypocritical nature of humans can be found beneath the slapstick exterior. The radical group regularly protests a new injustice, often mixing up their causes in the process. According to Manganello, this is the author’s way of mocking those individuals who claim to be doing good in the world, but in reality are not doing anything.

“Altruists are people who try to help others, but in reality they are just trying to help themselves by helping others,” said MT&D sophomore Elana Gantman (Sydney).

With a play that has so many levels, constant experimentation has proven vital to the actors in helping them develop the subtleties of their onstage counterparts.

“We did work on characters in the first week and after that it became more and more natural to just slip into it,” Dunn explained.

To ensure that their portrayals remain as realistic as possible, Manganello and Tran begin each rehearsal with a series of warm-up exercises designed to assist their cast into slipping naturally into their roles. Through a series of everyday questions that the actors must respond to in character, they’re able to step away from the limitations of the script and just embody the role.

Though the show offers multiple messages for audience members to walk away with, Manganello has a very simple wish: “I want them to come in, have a great night at the theater, have a laugh and, on top of that, I want them to be able to leave the theater and have a deeper conversation about modern-day politics and social movements.”

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