'Burning' desire: Students seek smiles in rom-com

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau 

Love will be in the air and on the Ethington Theatre stage the next two weekends with the debut of the College of Fine Arts and Production’s performance of Christopher Fry’s romantic comedy “The Lady's Not for Burning.”

"The Lady's Not for Burning" will premiere this weekend at Ethington Theatre.

“It’s set, ostensibly, in the 15th century, but it’s a very modern sort of love story,” said COFAP Professor Claude Pensis, the play's director. “During these times of COVID, laughter is sometimes in short supply. This is, in many ways, a very funny play.”

The show takes audiences on the journey of Thomas Mendip, a discharged and despondent soldier seeking to be hanged, and Jennet Jourdemayne, an accused witch who wants to live despite being sentenced to death. They fall in love and, eventually, set off to begin their new life.

“It’s about life and the joy of living,” Pensis said. “It really is a play about these people who are seemingly lost, and through this one evening they find each other and they find happiness.”

Nicholas Ryszkowski, who plays Nicholas Devise, said the humor in the show has created a creative and fun atmosphere behind the scenes.

“It’s just fun working with everybody and making all these crazy choices (for his character) and trying to make the people I’m with onstage break character and laugh,” he said with a smile. “There’s a lot of times (in rehearsal) when we’re in the middle of a scene and it just shuts down because we’re all cracking up.”

Ryszkowski didn’t know much about the role before researching the play, but what has made it memorable for him is the level of creative freedom he had in bringing the character to life. He also was drawn to the show’s language.

Morgan Sia plays the role of Thomas Mendip.

Through there were no Shakespearean pieces scheduled this season, students still had the chance to explore that era, written from a more modern approach. With Fry’s background in poetry, the play captures that linguistic feel of works set in the 15th century while also maintaining a modern-day vocabulary.

It was an element of the show that lured Morgan Sia to audition for the role of Thomas.

“I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to do this show, at the beginning, and a friend encouraged me to buy a copy of the show and read through it, so that’s what I did,” he said. “I loved the wit of it. It’s a very smart show, and the playwright, Christopher Fry, was a very intelligent man who loved words and is very literate.

“I think the words really drew me in in the beginning.”

Sia describes himself as an optimist, and finding similarities with a character who is seemingly upset at the world was not always easy. But upon learning more about the character through discussions with Pensis, he was able to find the more optimistic side of his character.

Sophia Jestice plays the role of Jennet Jourdemayne.

“It’s kind of fun trying to sift through and find the optimism in those lines that are so dark that we see peeking through at the end of the show,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit of myself coming through.”

In addition to the play’s impressive language and comedic tone, the wide variety of complex characters and character arcs offered an opportunity for performers to tap into other areas of interest to help shape their interpretations of their characters.

As a psychology major, Sophia Jestice wanted to take what she had been learning in the classroom and bring it into her performance as Jennet.

“I had to draw a lot of inspiration from things that I hadn’t even experienced before, from my class textbook, or from things I had experienced -- like if I’ve ever felt left out or too quirky for people to like me,” she said. “That’s kind of how Jennet feels sometimes, so I definitely drew that from myself as well.”

Having grown up with a love for theatre, Jestice is no stranger to the stage and felt a pull to audition for this production.

The play also highlights the work of students in other areas, such as costumes, hair and makeup and sound design.

All the costumes in the performance were designed by a student.

In his first solo sound design, Dalton Smith helps bring the 1400s atmosphere to life with an assortment of everyday sounds.

“It’s kept me on my toes,” he said. “It’s kept me working, and I feel like I’m learning a lot.

“I think audiences can expect atmosphere … just making it feel like you’re not just hearing something. It’s a part of the world.”

For as much joy as working on the production has brought to the cast and crew, it’s a show that is bond to bring smiles to audiences' faces.

The work that goes into putting on a show, Sia said, is best compared to athletics.

“You get to see your peers working together for a certain vision," he said. "It’s the same thing when we go to see basketball games. They’re all working toward the same vision, and we try to see ‘Are they going to get there?’ It’s the same thing in a theatre.”

If the chemistry of the cast is any indication, this production is set to be a slam dunk.

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Here's a slideshow.

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IF YOU GO

What: “The Lady’s Not for Burning” by Christopher Fry

When:  7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 11-20

Where: Ethington Theatre

Tickets: $12 admission. Discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, GCU and GCE employees, GCU alumni, children 12 years old and younger, and GCU students.

Information: 602-639-8979 or [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU Today: ‘Addams Family’ tackles tough topics with humor

GCU Today: Ethington Theatre Scene Shop builds props for film

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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9-10)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/