The high cost of morality

It has been said that great success comes with great compromise. But how far are we willing to go to achieve our professional goals? From Shakespeare’s tragic Macbeth to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the temptation to sacrifice morality for the sake of success continues to be a compelling theme for the stage.

Seduced by the wanton ways of academia: Ivory presents a tale of moral conflict. The production stars (from left) Anne-Marie Welty, Jonathan Frappier, Todd Weakley and Vivian Smith.

In an original play from an emerging theater company based in Asheville, this classic theme resurfaces and is explored in Ivory, the story of a young scholar balancing his personal loyalties with “the harrowing moral ambiguities of academia.” Written by local poet/playwright John Crutchfield and directed by James Ostholthoff, the play is presented by the Corpus Theatre Collective.

“This is the first play I’ve written that really grew out of the story itself,” Crutchfield reports. “Most of the time I begin with a visual image, a mood, an idea of some sort or even just a scrap of language. Ivory came about because the story just wanted to be told.”

And, like other tales exploring the loss of moral integrity, this play is a tragedy. Ivory tells of a student named Karl struggling to finish his dissertation at a high-powered Northeastern university. Under crushing personal and academic pressure, Karl looks to a brilliant young professor for guidance. However, “the professor who takes him under her wing is known to be predatory and unscrupulous, especially with male students,” Crutchfield explains.

“She’s a bit of a sexual libertine,” Ostholthoff adds. But nevertheless, Karl takes the risk anyway. In so doing, the young Southern student finds himself in a complicated affair with his professor, the only person he believes can help him finish his project and graduate.

Establishing a compelling premise, Ivory explores the consequences of sacrificing one’s morals. “Essentially, you have a young person who is a decent guy, but under certain pressures and given certain circumstances, makes the wrong decision. He has his character flaws but they’re not damning,” Crutchfield says.

The true challenge for the company is to make each character’s motives believable, even those of the seductive young professor. Fortunately, the troupe seems up to the task. As a company philosophy, Corpus Theatre Collective is interested in focusing on the “live presence of the actor” on a stage.

“The performances that have impacted me most strongly have everything to do with the sheer courage of the actor—overcoming the fear of performing, without all the bells and whistles,” says Crutchfield. “When you have just an actor on a bare stage, you get to the essentials.”

In hopes of bringing this philosophy into its production of Ivory, the company is dedicated to working on the more subtle aspects of the performance. Crutchfield notes that careful attention is paid to diction and body language.

In keeping with this bare-bones philosophy, Ivory will be performed on a realistic but minimal set. The transitions between scenes, from an office to a bar or bedroom, will be alluded to with lighting and minimal set changes. “Our primary goal is simply to tell the story,” Ostholthoff emphasizes.

Though this is their first production, members of the Corpus Theatre Collective are confident that Ivory will make a lasting impression. “It will be an exciting [night] of high-quality theater,” Ostholthoff declares. “Ivory is the kind of story that everyone can appreciate.”

who:  Corpus Theatre Collective presents Ivory
what:  An original play by an emerging theater company
where:  BeBe Theatre
when:  Tuesday, June 10, through Sunday, June 22. 8 p.m.; 2 p.m. on Sundays. ($15. www.johncrutchfield.com or 254-2621)

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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