A period of lunacy

Renee Rosenow

Begin with periods of craziness caused by the moon. Add ten actresses, space travel and top it off with more than 30 characters.

Does it sound like lunacy?

Lunacy will open at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Riverside Theater in Haas Fine Arts Center


Lunacy portrays a fictional story about two women, Martha Howland and Jean Cross, Director and Assistant Professor of music and theater arts Jennifer Chapman said.

Set in 1983, the character of Martha Howland, played by sophomore Jennifer Sisko, is preparing to go on the first one-woman solo mission to space and is very modernist in her approach to science.

“She believes that truth is knowable through observation and that’s a modernist idea from which the scientific method is born,” Chapman said.

While in space, historical female figures who made contributions to knowledge about space, space travel or stars, visit Martha Howland. By the conclusion of the play, Howland has to rethink her link with her original beliefs.

“Her relationship to truth and the ‘knowability’ of truth is really unstable at the end,” Chapman said.

Junior Angela Bass, a chorus member in Lunacy, said that the character of Martha is self-centered in the beginning. The play is a period of growth for that character.

“It’s her flight, it’s her mission, she doesn’t want anyone else taking credit for it,” Bass said. “In the end, she can see everyone around her that has helped make it possible in the first place.”

It is after this realization that she wants to meet the character of Jean Cross, whose story parallels hers.

The character Jean Cross is a composite based off of the Mercury 13, Chapman said.

The Mercury 13, also known as the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, was a group of women who trained to become astronauts in the 1960s for America’s first spaceflight, according to NASA.

Chapman said that during the training of the Mercury 13, it was determined by NASA that space travel was not safe for women, nor was it a good political decision.

Cross has more of a mystical relationship to the stars than Howland, Chapman said. She realizes science is only one part of the equation and that there are a number of things that can never be understood.

Junior Laura DeShane, who portrays Cross, said she saw Cross as the kind of woman who went on spiritual journeys at one point in her life. Cross is on a much different path during Lunacy and has sought solitude in the desert after the end of her astronaut training.

“She is very much outside-of-the-box,” DeShane said.

Risks and firsts

Chapman said Lunacy tells a rarely known story about women in history. She said she does not think many people know about the Mercury 13. At her previous institution, Chapman said she met one of the Mercury 13 members and was moved by the kinds of risks this woman took in her life. She said she thinks Lunacy touches on that topic.

“People who live boundary-breaking lives take extraordinary risks to do that,” she said. “The truth they know within them really is true for them when everyone else is saying it’s not.”

An example of this in Lunacy is when Jean Cross goes before Congress for money in order for women to continue training. Despite the fact that numerous experts from NASA tell her that she’s wrong, Cross cannot be swayed from her truth.

“Cross maintains her conviction that women are not only suited, but better suited than her male colleagues,” Chapman said.

Another major point of the play is the idea of firsts, in this case, the first women astronauts, DeShane said.

“There can be a loss of recognition sometimes of how many women had to work so hard for that first woman to be the first woman,” DeShane said. “Recognition of past as an influence on the future, I think, is a very big point of the show.”

Telling a story

Chapman also said the play is similar to storytelling and the cast always has a dual relationship with an audience when cast members play more than one character.

“We are saying to the audience, ‘We’re telling a story,'” Chapman said. “‘What’s important here are the issues and we want to have a dialogue with you about these issues in the play.'”

The audience should always be aware when an actress is portraying a character, she said.

This is a challenge for the actresses because they play so many characters, Chapman said, that they need to make strong choices for each character.

Sophomore Kathryn Henderson, and Lunacy cast member, said she would encourage students to come because the play is fun and because of its uniqueness.

“What we’ve done with the set and the characters, it’s very different from any play you’ll see probably,” Henderson said. “It’s called Lunacy for a reason.” She added that most people do not think about women’s independence in relation to space.

Chapman said she does not like theater with a black-and-white message and how very few plays have that type of message. She added she likes how Lunacy, as well as most theater, asks questions and leaves the audience to find their own answers to the unknown.

“What is our relationship to what’s unknowable?” Chapman said. “How do we cope with what’s unknowable?”