Spinning Into Butter is Rebecca Gilman’s provocative and prize-winning play that takes place on a quiet college campus in Vermont. Racist letters found on the door of an African-American student precipitate a turbulent situation that Sarah Daniels, the liberal dean of students, must investigate. Gilman’s play provides insights into contemporary issues of racism and political correctness in a challenging, sometimes comic, and often disturbing way. The play won the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.
Director Bryna Wortman, associate professor in the URI Theatre Department says the play will challenge audience members’ own notions of race. “Many years ago in an elementary-school auditorium at P.S. 92 Brooklyn, N.Y., I sat amazed watching Frank Sinatra weave his magic in what has become a classic post -WWII film, The House I Live In. He sang his tribute to the grocer and the baker and every member of the ethnic and religious community he visited – “that’s America to me.” The film and the song made a lasting impression on me. I was proud to be an American, a descendant of Russian Jewish immigrants who poured their life’s blood and loyalty into the USA.
“The world changes and new immigrants fill our cities and towns; Asians, Africans and peoples from the Middle East, Central and South America with immigration becoming a loaded issue and women’s and gay rights also taking center stage. How can America absorb so many diverse peoples? How can we all learn to know each other and respect rather than fear one another?” asks the director.
“Not every academic or college administrator is as out of touch as Rebecca Gilman’s creations, but her characters – faculty and students – demand our attention as they wrestle with an incident of racism and matters of political correctness in difficult, humorous circumstances that probe with honest scrutiny what racism consists of.
“ I saw a stunning, spellbinding production of Gilman’s play at Lincoln Center, New York City,” notes Wortman.” As a member of that audience I could gasp in common with those around me as actor Hope Davis’ in character as Sarah Daniels, dean of student affairs, confronts her own racism aloud and persists in our sharing the pain of a white American taught by her society to fear and to dread blackness. To realize how very hard it is to truly know another human being, and how not to know means not being able to respect the other is Gilman’s mantra. Gilman neither lets Sarah nor us off the hook and she does it with intelligence, understanding and compassion.”
Design team members are URI grads and current members of the department: costume design, Sally Tschantz-Dwyer, scenic design by Cheryl deWardener, lighting design by associate professor Christian Wittwer, and sound design by guest artist Mike Hyde.
“To work with such a dedicated group of students – actors, managers, assistant director and dramaturg as well as faculty and staff, guest designers and to be a part of the URI Honors Colloquium on Race is an honor and a privilege. No one has all the answers. But we must try. That’s America to me,” the director adds.
Members of the cast, their characters and hometowns follow:
Cast Member, Character, Hometown
Miles Boucher, Burton Strauss, Coventry
Andrew Burnap, Greg Sullivan, South Kingstown
Cory Crew, Ross Collins, Kingston
Albert Coelho, understudy, West Warwick
Frank Juarez, Patrick Chibas, Brentwood, N Y.
Thomas Sean McCormick, Mr. Meyers, Cranston
Stephanie Rodger, Dean Kenney, Coventry
Hillary Scofield, Sarah Daniels, Kensington, N.H.
Joshua Andrews, u/s Strauss, Exeter-West Greenwich
Andrew Chaffee, u/s Greg, Barrington
Kira Hawkridge, u/s Catherine Kenney, Woonsocket
Benjamin Hill, u/s Mr. Meyers, East Hampton, Conn.
Allie Meek, u/s Sarah Daniels, Pawtucket
Birk Woziak, u/s Ross Collins, North Kingstown
URI students (front to back) Hillary Scofield of Exeter, Frank Juarez of Brentwood, N.Y., Cory Crew of Kingston and Andrew Burnap of South Kingstown star in the University of Rhode Island’s production of Spinning into Butter. The play runs Oct. 14 through 16 and 21 through 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 17 and 24 at 3 p.m. Admission is $16 for general admission, $12 for seniors, URI Faculty and staff and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased by calling 401.874.5843 beginning Oct. 4 or online at www.uri.edu/theatre. URI photo by Randy Osga.