A one-act play titled “Zugzwang” was held in the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre on Nov. 20 and 21. The play was written and directed by fourth-year philosophy student Norah St. Peter as part of her thesis for the University of Maine Honors College.
“I thought this was a really good opportunity to do a project in a different discipline than what I studied,” St. Peter said.
The one-act play featured five characters. The two main characters were Eliza, portrayed by third-year social work student Sarah Smaha, and Val, portrayed by third-year English student Derrek Schrader. In the story, Val and Eliza meet while waiting for a bus, start dating and get married, but their relationship is far from perfect. Val is hostile and verbally and physically abuses Eliza, especially while they are married. The story ends when Eliza attempts to leave, but ultimately returns to Val out of fear.
“People in abusive relationships feel trapped,” Smaha said. “They feel like their abusers are going to find them no matter what.”
There were a few other characters involved in the play as well. Claire, played by third-year zoology student Michelle Bassis, is Eliza’s sister who watches over the developing relationship between Eliza and Val. Marie, who has her own problems with her spouse and seeks help from Eliza, was played by second-year mass communication and Spanish student Taylor Cronin. A waitress was featured in one of the scenes when Eliza and Val were on a date. She was portrayed by fourth-year music education student Brittney Trumbull.
“A lot of Val’s anger comes from when Eliza speaks up to him,” Schrader said. “He wants to have control.”
“We never heard him yell like that,” an audience member said regarding Schrader’s performance as Val.
The cast has been rehearsing since mid-October and have been holding rehearsals two to three times per week. Rehearsals were held every day for the past week to prepare for showtime.
“The biggest challenge by far was that the male lead dropped out with  days and only five rehearsals before we opened,” St. Peter said. “The role, Val, is really demanding physically and emotionally and to recast that part with five rehearsals left was absolutely insane. There were a good few hours where I didn’t know if the show would happen. But Derrek Schrader, my stage manager, stepped in and he has been just amazing.”
“The very first rehearsal that Derrek had, I was like ‘Wow, this is so much better,’” Smaha said.
Students who attend UMaine and are enrolled in the Honors College must complete an Honors thesis, a detailed project that reflects what they learned during their time in the college.
According to the show’s program, “Zugzwang” is a chess term used to describe when a player is in a position in which any move made will make the situation worse.
St. Peter said she was inspired to produce the play after she had taken an Honors tutorial where she worked on a short play featuring a fight between a husband and a wife. Since then, that example has stuck with her.
UMaine has many performance spaces including the Collins Center for the Arts and Hauck Auditorium. The Cyrus Pavilion Theatre was especially hard to attain due to scheduling conflicts.
Many of the actors are a part of Maine Masque, an organization at UMaine dedicated to acting and the dramatic arts. St. Peter, Smaha and Schrader serve as officers of the organization.
There were about 35 people who attended the play. Many of them were friends and family who greeted St. Peter and congratulated her on the work that she did.
“There is definitely an attitude of ‘That would never happen to me; I’m smarter than that!’ when it comes to domestic violence,” St. Peter said. “I think that is very problematic.”
Those who complete the project for the Honors thesis will go on to participate in a thesis defense, in which a board of adjudicators will determine whether they are eligible to graduate with Honors. The thesis also fulfills the capstone requirement for many of the university’s degree programs.
St. Peter has been working closely with Bruce Pratt, a professor of English who taught her Honors tutorial during her third year. The Honors tutorial is a small class that “takes a look into a specific topic or theme,” according to the Honors College website.
“When I was writing,” St. Peter said, “Bruce often reminded me, ‘You want to show that she has just enough information to make the wrong decision.’ I hope I’ve achieved that.”