Dick Sewell has been contemplating the quintet of plays that make up W. B. Yeats’s The Cuchulain Cycle for more than 50 years—since he was a student at Bard College. Back then Sewell was studying the Irish poet and dramatist under the guidance of American poet Theodore Weiss. As time went by, his ideas about ways to stage the plays were percolating. At last, Sewell is directing the cycle—which is rarely produced all together—for Colby’s Theater and Dance Department.

In presenting the tales about the Celtic folk hero Cuchulain (pronounced “cu-HOO-lin”), Sewell, emeritus adjunct associate professor of theater and dance, emeritus, founder of the Camden Shakespeare Theater, and cofounder of the Theater at Monmouth, has had to navigate wildly varying styles.

“One is a broad farce,” he said. “One is as near as you can come to a major tragedy in one single act, and two are quite mysterious and more poetic pieces.” Yeats’s fascination with Noh theater can also be seen. Sewell said audience members will see depicted “the life and two deaths of this mythical figure who dies and gets resurrected, rescued from the underworld by the faithfulness of his wife.”

The cast of 13 Colby students will be doubling—and sometimes tripling—up on roles. They’ll also be wearing masks, many of which were constructed by Sewell himself. It’s an apropos device, Sewell explained, since masks were used in theater’s nascent years. Performing masked is something students are not likely to have experienced, and Sewell says he’s been fascinated to watch them deal with the challenge of using gestures and movements instead of facial expressions.

“I went with the masks because I think it was Yeats’s idea that these characters are straight out of human myth and dream,” he said. “They are somehow a little bit other than our usual human selves.” The production also includes an electronic sound score, generated digitally, and four dance sequences.

The plays were written from 1904 to 1939, the year of Yeats’s death. So, Sewell said, “The difference in moods is legitimately come by. In 1904 Yeats was very hopeful for a new Ireland that would be a peaceful and joyful place. In 1939, he had a much darker view.” 

The Cuchulain Cycle
Directed by Richard Sewell, Music by Peter de Klerk, Written by William Butler Yeats
Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9, 7:30 p.m
Strider Theater, Runnals Building
Admission is free. First come, first served.

 

April 3 Morning Sentinel story.