The Circumference of a Squirrel by John Walch, an ETB play combining family struggles, dark humor, and rodents, will open fifth weekend. Sophomore Patton Small, the director, wanted to choose a show that was, “different from what Carleton students have seen” in past from ETB.
Although Small is only in his second year at Carleton, he has already directed two shows with ETB: God of Carnage and The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Bethany McHugh, chair of the ETB board, notes that Small is “really passionate about directing.” All of the plays he’s directed have had some component of dark humor.
Small appreciates dark humor, especially humor with “shock value,” because it’s “funny and not often done with Carleton theatre.” Smalls finds it “interesting to see people’s reactions” when presented with abrasive humor that is not always “politically-correct.”
As Small describes, The Circumference of a Squirrel tells the story of a man named Chester “who is using his father’s hatred of squirrels… to rationalize the issues within his family.” Among the issues with which Chester must struggle with is his father’s “anti-Semitism to his Jewish wife.”
Chester uses this “squirrel phobia” as a way to “tell a narrative and come to a greater understanding of his family issues.”
The show will add a unique perspective to the winter ETB season because it strikes a “balance between drama and comedy,” says McHugh. She explains that it can be “hard in col- lege theatre” to find a show that will appeal to a wide range of audiences, but with the melding of dramatic, co-medic, and absurdist elements, “The Circumference of a Squirrel” seeks to fit this goal.
The show is a massive undertaking because not only will it, as Small says, draw on both dark humor and “the absurdist style,” but will also, as McHugh notes, “[have] the added test of being a mostly one man show.”
Although there are three other actors, the bulk of the show will rely on the performance of sophomore Ian MacEneany, who plays the protagonist Chester. Much of the story is told through MacEneany’s monologues. For Small, the intense focus on monologue is “interesting for character development.”
One of the main challenges of the show is working the transitions. Small notes that, “Ian’s character switches in and out of modes and scenes quickly,” so he is spending a lot of time focusing on those “tricky transition” moments.
In addition to helping actors “break down” the complexities of monologues, Small enjoys having “creative control over the whole visual image” as a director. He also enjoys immersing himself in “character theory.” In a directorial position, he can go in depth into “all of the characters” as opposed to only focusing on one character as an actor.
As for Small’s general approach to directing, he says, “I have a general vision but I like the actors to feel things out.” He feels that giving the actors a chance to contribute their ideas “adds a productive element” to the show.
Students looking for a “fun and witty” theatrical piece that intertwines tense family dynamics and absurdist elements should come to The Circumference of a Squirrel, gracing the Carleton stage fifth weekend. It is the first of four ETB winter term shows.