Risqué student-directed show comes to the Blackbox

During a recent dress rehearsal of the new student play Tatjana in Color, cast member Grace Douglas suddenly exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. This is so scandalous.”

Douglas’ shock stemmed from seeing sophomore Samantha Sutliff on stage wearing close to nothing. Sutliff, who plays the lead role of Tatjana, had only a towel covering her lower backside. In fact, the show includes two scenes in which actresses are partially clothed, although the audience can only see their backs.

“It’s nerve-wracking, but I am okay with it,” Sutliff said. “It is done in a classy way and it makes the play more interesting.”

Tatjana in Color, written in 1997 by award-winning playwright Julia Jordan, was loosely based on the biography of Egon Schiele. The prominent Austrian painter was briefly imprisoned in 1912 for immoral interactions with a 12-year-old child named Tatjana Von Mossig.

The play opens its four-day run at 8 p.m. tonight in Hecht Residential College’s Black Box Theatre on the second floor. Admission is free.

“What sets this show apart from others is that it challenges the norms,” student director Sarah Zemach said. “This is not what you expect to see in a musical or other play; it is a lot deeper than that.”

This isn’t the first UM production to feature partially-clad actors and actresses. In the past, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Dog Sees God featured scenes similar to Tajana, during which the audience didn’t see frontal views of cast members.

Zemach said that she was excited about the storyline and jumped on the opportunity to bring the script to the stage after given the go-ahead by the UM Department of Theatre Arts.

“This is not an easy play,” she said. “It is provocative, abstract and not usually the kind of play that is put on in the UM theatre department.”

Zemach encountered one big obstacle after the student playing the role of Schiele withdrew for personal reasons. Samantha Bangs, who plays Schiele’s mistress, volunteered her fiancé, Max Schloner, to fill the role mid-way though rehearsals. Schloner is a creative writing and motion picture major, but has previous acting experience.

“Max read the script so well on the first time, so it eased my worries,” Zemach said. “And it’s funny how the lovers play lovers.”

Rehearsals began four weeks ago and cast members worked six days a week. Jennifer Vellenga, Zemach’s acting and directing professor, introduced the play to the young director.

“I think the director was looking for something with a feminine slant and took to a topic maybe a little more taboo,” Vellenga said. “This is about a young woman coming of age and how she views herself in relationship to art.”

Douglas said that she thinks that the audience will respond with mixed reactions.

“If they leave half as shocked as I am right now, it will prove to be a great show,” she said.

If You Go

What: student play Tatjana in Color

When: 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; 2 p.m. on Sunday

Where: Black Box Theatre on the second floor of Hecht Residential College

Cost: Free admission, sign up on the second floor of the Hecht in the theater department