Forget the stress of exams, papers and the daily grind of classes. University Productions brings a show about greater pressures to the Mendelssohn Theatre stage this weekend.

Paul Wong
Smith torn between a pair of lovelies (Audra Ewing, Julie Strassel)<br><br>Courtesy of University Productions

British playwright David Hare”s “The Secret Rapture” examines the strain a patriarch”s death puts on a family. Daughter Isobel must fill the void left by her father Robert while running a graphic design firm and dealing with her sister, lover and young, alcoholic stepmother. “She is fueled by her need to hold her father on a pedestal,” said Audra Ewing, who portrays Isobel. “She continually tries to push aside her own happiness to take care of her stepmother.”

Isobel struggles to remain untouched by her family”s attempts to manipulate her, said Jason Smith, who plays Isobel”s lover, Irwin. “It”s the classic story of good versus evil, with the more realistic twist of good not always prevailing,” he said.

The script accurately mirrors the real-life complexities of people, Smith said. His character, for example, is neither a hero nor a villain. Irwin has normal human emotions and his share of flaws, which makes him more realistic, Smith said. All of the characters have this level of complexity, he added. “There are so many layers to each of them that you don”t really know are there until you begin digging,” Smith said. “The more you discover, the more questions that come up about them.”

Hare”s writing maintains its complexity in other areas besides character development, Ewing said. “The script is full of so many depths,” she said. “It has been both thrilling and challenging digging into the script and discovering all it has to offer.”

Director John Neville-Andrews chose to use a combination of Hare”s two scripts, one written for a London cast and the other for a New York performance. He said he hopes the audience will be able to relate well to the plot and the situation facing Isobel.

“The challenges are making sure all of Mr. Hare”s intentions in the play are recognized by an audience, the burden of which the cast and I are delightfully exploring and discovering every day,” he said.

A small cast brings this complex story to the stage. Ewing said using a small group works effectively for an ensemble piece about a family. The size of the cast also provides the actors with the opportunity to become close, she said. “It is much easier to understand one another”s acting styles, and the process becomes more intimate,” Ewing said.

She said she hopes the audience members will identify with the story and be impacted by its proximity to reality.

“Though I do hope that the audience enjoys the play, I want them, more importantly, to leave feeling changed in some way,” Ewing said. “I hope that in some way the audience will leave with the need to re-evaluate their relationships with those they cherish.”

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