by Jessica Thomas
Assistant News Editor
In the last two weekends of the quad, Knight Hall transformed into idyllic Green Gables at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul for the major spring play, “Anne of Green Gables.” Sophomore theater major Faith Winship starred as Anne, the orphaned main character; sophomore graphic design major Aaron Stauffer played Gilbert, Anne’s rival and later love interest; and theater majors Tommy McCarthy and Gracie Lugo starred as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, the brother and sister who take Anne in from the orphanage.
“’Anne of Green Gables’ has been a favorite novel of mine as a little girl when I was growing up, so to be able to bring this to the stage in a way that the audience can appreciate is very thrilling to me,” said Jennifer Hunter, director of “Anne of Green Gables.”
Hunter and the cast have had great enjoyment preparing the show and watching it come to life. “One of the surprises to us once the performances started was how responsive the audience became; there were parts and lines that we really didn’t expect laughter, some ‘oohs’ or ‘ahhs,’ or even an ‘aww’ for Matthew on some of his lines,” she said. “That became a special treat to us, because then we know we’re really connecting with the audience and that they’re right there with us in the middle of the story. That’s the ultimate in theater; you need to make sure that you’re taking the audience on a journey and that they’re enjoying the journey.”
The journey of the characters in this play is one of family and belonging. Hunter explained, “You have the orphan, Anne, who is longing for a home. You hear a little bit of her backstory and the tough life that she’s had, so from the moment you see her on stage with her red hair and freckles, you are rooting for her, that she is going to find love and a sense of belonging in this world.”
This is also true for the characters of Matthew and Marilla. Neither were ever married, and family is important to them, which can be seen in scenes throughout the play. In the beginning, neither of them realized that they, too, were missing something in their lives until Anne came along. Hunter said, “There’s a sternness to Marilla, so it takes a while to build that connection. That’s what we love to see in the journey as an audience, and we take that journey with Marilla, Matthew, and especially with Anne. Our hearts go with these characters on this journey and it moves us.” As Marilla says in one scene, about the misunderstanding that brought Anne to Green Gables in the first place, “It’s not a mistake; it was providence.”
One unique element of UNW’s production of “Anne of Green Gables” is that composer Randall Burghart was able to write original incidental music for the show and come from Grand Rapids, Michigan to UNW to direct the instrumental ensemble during the show. “Incidental music is the music that happens between scenes,” Hunter said, “and his music also underscores some of the action. His music added that special something to the show that made it unique and exciting to the audience.”
For those who may have missed this show, there are still some more opportunities left to see a UNW theater performance this semester. From April 26-May 5, Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” will be playing in the Patsy Miller Studio Theatre, and there will be a Musical Theatre Cabaret on May 11. “We have a musical theater workshop class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they have been preparing duets, trios, and solos,” Hunter explained. “Some of those numbers will be used for the cabaret at the end of the year.”
Next season’s shows will not be announced until May, but Hunter confirms that there are exciting things to come. She said, “There are some shows that are already set, and some that are still in question, and we try to have a good mix in genre of different types of shows.” This mix typically includes a musical, a classic literature piece, something that will present a unique challenge to theater students, and something that the audience will love.