The play Eugenia focuses on the love affair of a transgender Italian woman who immigrates to New Zealand in 1916 posing as a man named Jack; Jack marries a woman named Violet without revealing that she is really a woman. When Violet’s ex-lover learns Jack’s true identity, it drives him into a rage, threatening to unravel Jack’s and Violet’s marriage. The story is a play-within-a play, a device that provides a secondary storyline: the proposal by a school Drama teacher to put on the play and the ensuing uproar with the school’s Board of Trustees, which results in the deputy principal’s examining her own sexuality.
Eugenia, which will be performed at the Parker Theatre at SUNY-New Paltz from March 1 through 11, certainly has no lack of topical appeal, considering the current struggle to legalize gay marriage. But Anita Gonzalez, an associate Theatre professor at SUNY-New Paltz who directs the play and has long taught the play to students in her classes, said that Eugenia is above all a touching love story. “The students like it because it is a story about love, regardless of gender,” Gonzalez said. While 15 years ago such a topic had shock value, “Today, they’re familiar with all kinds of genders, so they’re drawn to the story because it’s about love and standing up for what you believe in.”
Gonzalez said that she discovered the play, which was written by New Zealand playwright Lorae Parry in 1993 while she was living in New York, after a student from New Zealand in her “Race, Gender and Performance” class recommended it. In 2007, Parry directed the play in London and rewrote the work, which has only been produced in the US twice, Gonzalez said.
The play is cinematic in form, consisting of a series of episodic scenes, and one of the challenges was to convey the two time periods. Gonzalez said that the costume designer, who is a student, did an excellent job of creating costumes that are suitable for both eras, with the mere adjustment of a scarf, for example, signifying the shift from 1916 to the present. Lighting also comes into play, with the lighting designer – an alum who now works on Broadway – using fluorescent lighting to suggest the present and more ambient mood lighting for the past. The original Italian-themed score is by composer Stephen Kitsakos, a lecturer at SUNY-New Paltz.
Tickets cost $18 general admission, $16 for seniors and SUNY-New Paltz faculty and staff and $9 for SUNY-New Paltz students. To reserve, call (845) 257-3880 on weekdays between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or visit www.newpaltz.edu/theatre.