Who dwells in 'The House Where Nobody Lives'?

10:33:18 AM CDT - Thursday, November 17, 2005

By Shannon Littlejohn

In a house where nobody lives, its inhabitants will have to figure out what they are doing there. That's the basic premise of "The House Where Nobody Lives," this year's winner of the School of Performing Arts annual National Playwriting Competition.

It's playwright Paul North's intention, however, that individual theater groups interpret his play in their own way.

The 24-year-old North was to be in the audience on opening night (Wednesday, Nov. 16) to see for himself how theater professor and director Judith Babnich's production works with the foundation of his play: a main character who must attempt to maintain stability among four strangers who find themselves together in a mysterious house.

North's visit is being hosted by the School of Performing Arts, and he's excited about seeing his play in action. In fact, his mother also flew in from New York for the event.

"This is my first full-length play in production," said North, who is a second-year graduate student in playwriting at Arizona State University in Tempe. "It's great to be able to see it on stage."

"I hope he likes the way we've interpreted it," said Babnich, who has directed many of the national contest's prizewinning plays over more than 30 years that Wichita State has hosted the contest. She proudly notes that WSU stands out among its peer institutions for producing an original play every year.

In Babnich's version of North's play, the action centers around five people, including a caretaker angel, who find themselves in purgatory. That is the place where, according to Catholic doctrine, souls must pass if their bodies have committed sins in life and not atoned for them. The graver and more frequent the sin, the longer the period of atonement.

"Our lead, Sarah, is an angel," said Babnich. "In the Catholic Church, there are many levels of angels. She is a very mediocre angel who would like to be human. She has been placed in purgatory as her job. Because she's mediocre and doesn't follow the rules, she stays in purgatory to take of the people there."

The four souls in Sarah's care are trying to understand and negotiate their own times in purgatory. Babnich acknowledges that a lot of religions don't embrace the concept of purgatory, but it is an interesting concept, she said.

"This is theater of the absurd," Babnich said. "It isn't realism, but it is thought-provoking. Where do we go when we die?"

The all-student cast features Ashley Sorensen in the role of Sarah, the angel. In her care are Taylor Moore as Barnabus, a seaman; Stephen Barker as Marshall, an orphan; Cassiday Proctor as Lois, a librarian; and Matt Ablan as Jim, a crystal methamphetamine addict.

Directing and sound design is by Babnich, with lighting by Matthew Johannes,
costumes by Shannon Smith, set design by Paul Colella, properties by Evan Schmidt, stage management by Jessica Carr and technical direction by Eric Bledsoe.

"This play will definitely take viewers on an interesting journey of spirit and mind," said Babnich.

University Theatre Second Stage is presenting "The House Where Nobody Lives" at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday, Nov. 19, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19-20, in the Welsbacher Theatre in the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St. N. Tickets are $8 general admission, with discounts available. It is rated R. For more information call the College of Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

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