By Eugene “Jesse” Nash IV
Over 1,000 people watched a six-foot tall venus flytrap puppet eat an old man during the opening weekend for Little Shop of Horrors, according to the Clarice Performing Arts Box Office.
The off-Broadway musical opened last Saturday at the Clarice in Kay Theater to the applause of both university students and Maryland residents. In the play that was first shown in 1986, Mr. Mushnik, an old Jewish man, runs a flower shop with his adopted son, Seymour, who discovers and cares for an alien plant whose diet consists solely of human flesh.
Michael Weiss, a Jewish sophomore theater and philosophy major, sat in a closed room during the human-eating, with a microphone in front of him. He laughed with a deep voice that boomed throughout the theater. Weiss played the voice of the plant, named Audrey II.
“Most people who hear the voice would not expect to see what I actually look like,” Weiss said.
Although he is a natural bass in singing, the part took time to embrace.
“It was a combination of reading the script, listening to other performances and internalizing – thinking about character,” Weiss said.
He had two challenges to overcome: expressing emotion solely through a voice and finding his own voice through the monster’s character.
“Audrey II is an interesting character because it’s just a monster,” Weiss said.
Visualized through a puppet, it shows no emotion and lacks dimension. To speak as the monster, he had to study how others acted in similar roles.
According to Weiss, Ron Himes, the director of the show, who flew to this university from St. Louis every week leading up to the performance, helped him bring his own voice into the monster.
Ethan Cuttler, a senior psychology and theater major who sang as a member of the ensemble and studied to be a backup for Mr. Mushnik, is also Jewish.
Grace Guarniere, a second-year MFA candidate in scenic design, said that set designers began their work as early as Spring 2017, finalizing it only a few weeks before the show began. By Friday, they had completed the 60’s skid-row atmosphere complete with neon signs, metal trusses and chain link fences.
The cast had one month after cast selection at the beginning of the semester to memorize their scripts and work together, Guarniere said. She added that Himes was a blessing to this university as he is renowned in the theater world.
As an outsider, he really helped the actors break out of their pre-formed friendships from other performances to take on new roles in this production, Weiss said.
During that month, Mr. Mushnik’s actor, senior theater performance major Darien Djourabtchi, often checked in with Weiss and Cuttler to ensure he wasn’t being anti-Semitic in his performance, Weiss said.
Mushnik, along with many themes of the performance, were supposed to be overblown stereotypes with some balance between offense and humor, Weiss added.