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‘Rebellion becomes Revolution,’ a surprising story of forgiveness

Published: February 13, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories


In Hebrew it’s called emet. In English, however, perhaps most of us know it better as truth.

At Brandeis, we encounter this word daily. It’s thrown around in conversations and pursued in campus clubs. Other times, students have protested for it. Mostly, at Brandeis, we search for truth as a way to realize social justice—in all of its forms—through the education we have created for ourselves. Truth, after all, is engraved in the very motto of our university.

The rich history of students seeking truth at Brandeis was articulately retold at “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution: A Play of Protest, Murder, Denial and Atonement” that was well performed during this past weekend in Schwartz Hall. Presented with sponsorship by the Free Play Cooperative, the American studies program, and with support from ’Deis Impact 2013, the play was entirely student written and produced. Originally written in the spring of 2012 by the students of Professor Joyce Antler’s History-as-Theater class, “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution,” it paints a historical landscape of Brandeis during the anti-war movement—specifically those against the Vietnam War starting in the late 1950s.

The play utilizes a cast of 14 actors to depict more than 50 historical figures. The main narrative, however, is that of two radical Brandeis students, Susan Saxe and Kathy Power, and their involvement within and outside of campus during this tumultuous period of American history. The two are also among eight women to have ever made the FBI’s most wanted list. Most famously, and in which the play centers heavily on, is the robbery of a Brighton Bank that resulted in the death of Boston Police Walter Schroeder by the duo and their accomplices. In the process, the play outlines an informative tale of Brandeis students engaging in their individual vision of social justice. This includes turning Pearlman Hall into a major strike center and the taking over of Ford Hall by the Brandeis Afro-American society, just to name a few.

With such an endearing legacy of social involvement at Brandeis, the play makes a valiant effort of not only getting the story right, but also presenting an extensively long history within the standard length of a play. In drafting the script, Amanda Stern ’15 and Julian Seltzer ’15—two of the play’s original co-authors—dug deep into the archival records of Brandeis to collect newspapers, flyers, interviews and a myriad of other primary documents to accurately capture the history and social climate in which “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution” takes place. Their dedication to the research, as well as being co-directors and producers, was displayed in how well the play was able to vividly recount an entire era.

Building off the hard work of Stern and Seltzer, the second part of the equation to what made “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution” so stunning and successful was the 14-member student ensemble cast. Ranging from those who have never acted before coming Brandeis to seasoned thespians, each cast member truly committed to bringing his or her historical figure alive. The amount of work they invested into this production was highly evident. This was clear from the eloquent performance by the entire cast. All 14 members of the cast were terrific in the way they treated each of the characters they played as separate individuals with unique idiosyncrasy, particularly of the performances from Steve Kline ’14, Jen Largaespada ’16 and Phil Skokos ’15. Kline, having played a total of six different characters, was a true chameleon in the way he was able to shift from tossing around the murmuring Boston accent of Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara to embodying the stoic intensity of former Brandeis President Morris Abrams, and even to the calculating coolness of Prosecutor Gaffney.

Brian Dorfman ’16 gave a very believable performance as the younger, though still characteristically laid back, Gordie Fellman. The two reporters, Julia Doucet ’16 and Gabe Guerra ’14, were great in their ability to help narrate and transition between the scenes.

Two standouts, however, were Stern as Susan Saxe and Barbara Spidle ’16 as Claire Schroeder. Being a part of eight total women to make the FBI’s most wanted list, playing Susan Saxe meant depicting a fearless, strong, intelligent woman, unyielding to her own ambitions and goals. Stern, who on top of helping produce and direct the show, played Saxe with all of these qualities. Most impressive was the passion and belief in the delivery of her ending monologue to the first half of the play, in which she vehemently voiced protest against America’s actions during the war, crying: “America, your children hate you!”

Spidle, as Claire Schroeder, brought great contrast to Stern’s performance. Depicting another strong woman figure as the daughter of Walter Schroeder, Spidle skillfully instilled a fragility and vulnerability to her character. She was able to show Schroeder’s struggle between choosing to forgive Saxe and Kathy Powers (Barbara Rugg ’15) for the murder of her father, or remaining angry with them. Spidle’s performance as Claire Schroeder is also noteworthy in that it brings a refreshingly surprising message to the play, one about finding forgiveness as a way to peace. This was clear in Spidle’s performance as Claire as well as from Stern and Rugg who showed the journey of their characters realizing their actions, atoning for them in their own way, and ultimately forgiving themselves.

There was very minimal prop use throughout the play and actors kept their costumes simple. Indeed, it was not the vintage vest worn by David Friedman ’15, nor the fringed poncho donned by Jess Plante ’16 that captured the time period. Instead, it was the ability of the cast to give a voice to the story of Susan Saxe and Kathy Powers that made the production truly stunning.

“When Rebellion Becomes Revolution” lives up to the legacy of Brandeis students seeking to realize their own vision of social justice through doing what they believed to be right. In the end, “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution” was powerful in the history it revealed and each cast member’s passion resonated in the core themes presented.