Gary Gisselman is someone who will give you a straight answer if you ask for it. Dubbed “Gleaming-Headed Gary” by previous Great Conversation cohorts he has taught, Gisselman’s scope of professional theatrical experience as founding artistic director of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and artistic director at St. Olaf lead him to consider new approaches to make theater relevant to students at St. Olaf.
His choice of production for this fall is actually two shows that play in repertoire. A musical, “Marry Me A Little,” and a revamped Moliere play called “The Imaginary Invalid” open next weekend on Friday, Nov. 9 and play the following weekend as well, alternating with four showings per weekend.
The premise of “Marry Me A Little,” as described by Gisselman, is a simple love story. It follows two lonely individuals living in separate apartments: One has just moved to New York City while the other currently resides there.
“The two meet, fall in love, face difficulties and end up together,” Gisselman said of the emotional conflict the two characters face. The story is told entirely through song, inviting the audience to observe the characters’ behavior through the music.
Yet, Gisselman altered the piece slightly by casting two women in the main roles. When asked about this decision, Gisselman responded that he wanted to present the relationship as “something organic and natural, as opposed to bizarre.” Becca Hart ’14, who acts as one of the main characters, commented on the creative process the characters and their directors navigated in order to piece together this unique production.
“The idea of ‘Marry Me’ is clear without having to be explicitly reiterated,” Hart said. She recalls the conversations between the cast, director, stage manager and musical conductor about how political to make the show. Gisselman stated that he chose this show because of its timing in relation to the marriage amendment, though it was not meant to be a political work.
The debate over the amendment which was narrowly defeated at the polls on Tuesday certainly swept over the town of Northfield and seeped onto campus along with other politically-charged issues. Yet, “Marry Me” offers an artistic perspective of the discussion, giving names and faces to unknown people and further opening the discussion on campus.
In the original production, a male and a female are the main characters. The creative process involved recreating the show in countless ways. The crew rearranged the order of the songs, chose who sang which song and discussed how to incorporate physical movement, conflicts and themes. They even altered the ending. Those involved with the show – from the main characters to the acting director, music director and stage manager – experienced a unique freedom in this process of molding “Marry Me” for its audience.
There is no doubting the creativity and malleability of the show, tailored to fit the time and era. “Marry Me” will run in conjunction with “The Imaginary Invalid” for the next two weekends: Friday, Nov. 9-11 and Thursday, Nov. 15-17 in Kelsey Theater.