What: The Lower Depths
Directed by: David Kennedy
Where: Timms Centre for the Arts
When: Until February 17, 2018
From our very own graduating class of 2018 comes a production of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths, adapted by David Kennedy. The original play is set in Russia in the early 20th century and focuses on a group of people living in property who deal with drug addiction, illness, alcoholism, and a myriad of other problems. David Kennedy, assistant professor in the Drama department, worked closely with Gorky’s play and U of A’s own talented performers to bring the play into a recognizably contemporary age. The Gateway had the opportunity to interview Kennedy prior to the opening night.
The Gateway: So, you’re working on an adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths. Why did you choose this play to adapt?
Kennedy: I’ve always loved it. I first became a fan of Gorky fifteen years ago when somebody recommended I read his autobiography, and I was totally taken with his deep and abiding sense of humanity. He just knew how to capture people, in all their complexities. The Lower Depths is just one of those plays that I’ve always been interested in doing because I feel like it captures something essential about what it means to be alive.
Q: How heavily were the U of A grads and undergrads involved?
A: Well the graduating class of BFA actors, that’s the company of actors, all 12 of them. They’re central to this enterprise, and they were very much involved because when I took this adaptation to rehearsal, I said to them that I wanted every single line in this play to sound authentic. So, a lot of lines get rewritten to sound more like contemporary speech to make it more natural to the actor. In terms of other students, the BFA stage managers were involved — Jake Blakely, who’s the production stage manager. The technical students are also involved in the production. I’m working with a graduate student in design who did the costumes. I worked with a PhD student who was a production dramaturge. So, a lot of students from a lot of different departments come together and work on the Timms stage.
Q: Compared to other productions you’ve worked on in the past, how was it different working with students?
A: I think the difference with students is that the primary emphasis has to be on the student experience. What they take away from this provides a fundamental educational experience. In a professional setting, that’s not my concern. My concern is primarily the production first and foremost. There’s no pedagogical dimension. This is a training ground for students who will very soon be stepping into the professional world so it’s a bridge for them.
Q: Were you trying to reflect aspects of what you’ve seen in Edmonton?
A: I wanted it to be based in an unnamed large northern North American city, but many of the issues of the play: the extreme disparities in wealth, the tide of opioid addiction, the numbers of abandoned spaces — that applies to Edmonton, but also to many other cities. It was important that it wasn’t specifically located here (Edmonton). It’s a larger story.
The Lower Depths is playing at the Timms Centre, located on campus, until this Saturday, February 17. Watch the university’s own deeply talented and diverse company of actors take on this adaptation of Gorky’s work.