“Group of inept American diplomats try to broker relations with a Muslim-majority country, inadvertently start a coup,” is how Director Corey Sorenson describes the play “The Engine of Our Ruin.”
Written by Jason Wells, the play is premiering Nov. 16-19 at Pomona College’s Allen Theatre. Sorenson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance and has directed numerous other projects, including the webseries “The Circuit.”
“The Engine of Our Ruin” is a comedy with a political undercurrent, telling a tale of the disarray resulting from the miscommunication between two diplomatic groups with contrasting political agendas. The playwright, Jason Wells, does not specify in which country the play takes place.
During auditions, the play's actors had to perform comic monologues to demonstrate their capability in executing comedic content. Sorenson emphasized the importance of reaching out to actors of color in the casting process.
As a seasoned thespian, Morgan Berlin PO '19 has participated in past productions at Pomona as well as in high school. For this show, Berlin plays the character Jessica, a business software consultant who has had “one too many drinks at the bar,” she said.
Berlin said she chose to audition for “The Engine of Our Ruin” because of the comedy’s social and political implications.
“I like dealing with controversial issues in a very comedic way,” Berlin said. “I think [comedy] makes [the play] more accessible to students, without anyone getting their guard up. It’s a nicer way of putting across a very important point, and I think the show does that really well.”
On the other hand, Owen Halstad PO '21 plays the character Boris, a sleazy State Department official who is used to making backroom political deals. Halstad has been an understudy for the role, but joined the cast just 18 days prior to performance week when the original actor had to step out.
“It has been so much fun to completely get thrown into a process and to hit the ground running, to be memorizing [lines] as you perform the scene for the first time, and to be just constantly amazed by how much laughter … and how much excitement is around this production,” Halstad said.
Although Halstad is a first-year, he is certainly no theater novice. He has an extensive theater background, having participated in numerous productions since high school as an actor, crew member, writer, and director.
Other actors shared their experiences of preparing for their roles. Abdullah Shahid PO '19 plays the character Majid, the Muslim nation Foreign Minister’s right-hand man, and Anisha Tandon HM ‘21 plays the character Razi, an interpreter from the same Muslim nation.
Both of these actors have to switch back and forth between their own accents and an American accent during their time on stage, which has been one of their biggest challenges for this play, they said. Nonetheless, they have been working tirelessly with their dialect coach, Meagan Prahl, who teaches both acting and voice at Pomona.
During the interview, these actors maintained an undeniable sense of chemistry, laughing and teasing each other over bad puns and rehearsal anecdotes. Like the actors from “Cabaret,” they have been preparing for this play since the beginning of the year.
Because “The Engine of Our Ruin” is a comedy, the audience plays an important role in the show's energy. Shahid noted the difficulty in predicting how the jokes will fall, given that they rehearse to an empty room every day.
“Comedy is more about give-and-take than drama is, for sure,” Berlin said. “[In] drama, you’re presenting a piece for other people, [but in] comedy there’s more of a relationship that develops between the audience and the actors.”
With that relationship in mind, what should the audience expect to take away from the show?
Halstad quoted from Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie”: “We will give you the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
“The Engine of Our Ruin” will hopefully provide bountiful laughs, while giving subtle, yet poignant commentaries regarding today’s political climate. Even contemporary playwright Wells commented on the play’s relevance.
“There are no villains in the play, everyone is actually trying to do the right thing, and their failures are common and trivial,” Wells said, according to Pomona's website. “It’s only that the stakes are so high. The unexpected thing for me is how tonally light the piece suddenly appears compared to the dark reality we find ourselves in now. I think it’s good to be reminded that there are serious jobs to do, and we really need to care who does them.”
This upcoming weekend, actors will be performing in five total shows: Nov. 16 at 8 p.m., Nov. 17 at 8 p.m., Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6 for students and faculty, and $11 for the general public.