‘The Hampton Years’ – First Full Length Play Presentation in Locally Grown Festival – Hits a Homer!

Jacqueline Lawton’s The Hampton Years explores the relationship between art professor Viktor Lowenfeld and his students, John Biggers and Samella Lewis. The commissioned work underwent 4 major drafts before its first airing Monday night in the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater. What revelation and what a break through! It’s a play about being black and being an artist, being a Jewish refugee and pouring one’s love of art into one’s teaching. It’s about artists wishing each other well even as competition becomes inevitable. It’s a play about power and student activism during wartime written with generosity and little rancor. It’s a play about art history that speaks to our moment.

Let’s hear from more students from the Universities of Michigan, California at Berkeley, and Notre Dame, all in DC for the semester doing internships on Capital Hill by day, and taking a political theater elective course once a week at night. Attending the Locally Grown Festival readings is one of the extra assignments. Let’s see how this struck them… and you!

The cast of Jacqueline Lawton's THE HAMPTON YEARS.


19 thoughts on “‘The Hampton Years’ – First Full Length Play Presentation in Locally Grown Festival – Hits a Homer!

  1. The Hampton Years provided its audience with the unique opportunity to not only enjoy a production, but learn about historical events.
    Jacqueline Lawton used her play to address discrimination against both African Americans and Jews in the 1940s. Her linkage of the struggles of both populations fascinated me; although I knew both groups to face discrimination, I had never thought to compare the struggles of the two. More specifically, I had never considered the differences; Nazis murder Viktor’s family, but he does not face the same discriminatory laws as his African American students and colleagues, such as not being able to simply walk into a segregated museum to see a Picasso exhibit. Before the play, I thought of discrimination as a general atrocity; I’d never considered the different variations of it.
    I did not know the play was based on real people and events until the discussion afterwards; this put its events in a new light. When I learned Elizabeth Catlett really did bring her students to a segregated museum, that Samella Lewis really did paint a black Jesus in a Navy chapel, and that Professor Lowenfeld actually signed the students’ petition to hire more black professors, the characters impressed me even more. Lawton did not just fabricate these events in order to create a more interesting work of art; she chronicled real people making a real-world impact.
    Although the reading got a little dry at times, all in all, I enjoyed The Hampton Years. The actors embraced their characters’ personalities, the plot informed me on historical events I was previously unaware of, and the Jesus and Mary scene was hilarious. The themes of overcoming adversity and using art as a means to make a difference can be applied to all areas of life, and therefore make the play relatable to everyone.

  2. Last night’s reading of “The Hampton Years” was incredible. One of the questions that Jacqueline Lawton asked during the discussion was about which parts of the play resonated with us. There were a couple quotes or moments in the play that really stuck in my memory. During a discussion between Charlie and John, Charlie said, “Shame keeps Negros complaisant.” I think this quote is packed with meaning and is applicable to many situations that are relevant today. One such situation that came to mind is sexual assault or violence, often society places blame on the victim of these horrid crimes. This shame that is placed upon the victim is used to keep them quiet about what happened. Similarly, shame has been, and still is used, against blacks to keep them obedient. Skin color and gender have a long history in this country of acting as a mechanism to keep a certain group from speaking out for justice.

    Another part of the reading that struck me was during the same conversation when Charlie told John that we must examine who is telling a story, and he points out that most of the stories we hear are from the perspective of a white male. This one-sided viewpoint presents a biased perspective of the world. Before college, all of the history I learned was from a white outlook, and usually male. I hardly remember reading any black and/or female authors. In college I realized how distorted my understanding of history was. After taking a women’s studies class I finally was exposed to authors of color who told stories such as slavery and the discovery of America from the point of view of the enslaved and Natives. This was also my first time reading her-story rather that his-tory. I think what Charlie said was extremely accurate and unfortunate, often we are only taught from a certain point of view, and it is up to us to do the research and re-teach ourselves the truth.

    • The portions of the reading that resonated with Katie certainly resonated with me, too. The classes I’ve taken at school helped me pick up on certain plays in Lawton’s play, which Katie describes here. Fighting to have a voice in politics in this country has long been a struggle for black Americans and other groups. The artists in this play used their art in an attempt to build up their voices and have a say in the fight for justice. This play takes place in the late 1930’s and early 40’s so it is a little disheartening that the same struggles Samella and John had to work through are still pertinent today. Lawton does a great service to her audience by making the parallels between the fight for civil rights then and now very clear in her play. As Katie says in her post, even today, students are not exposed enough to historical perspectives that are not white and male.

  3. This was my first experience viewing a reading and I was expecting to be either intrigued or utterly bored. Thankfully, my attention was captured from beginning till the end. I found it interesting that while there were no visuals to speak of on stage, I could clearly envision how the play would be staged through the vocalized stage directions and the dialogue itself. The intermittent “dream” sequences really brought the reading to life. I could visualize each painting that was described in my head. I thought this was interesting since much of the play focuses on how Samella is a visual artist, a trait that leads to clashes with Viktor.
    Although I enjoy art and art history, I didn’t know much about the art or lives of the artists presented in this play, so this was truly a learning experience for me. But beyond the inspiring biographies of the artists, I was most interested in the themes of truth and justice. It was very fitting that this play would be introduced on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I feel that much of what Dr. King preached was reflected in this play. This play was about not compromising the truth and reverting against complacency. The characters in this play, especially Samella, worked tirelessly to express themselves in the most truthful form, to present themselves through art without compromising their beliefs. I am not a painter or sculptor, but I do believe in the power of art to draw attention to important issues and to show people in the purest of forms how injustice affects marginalized groups in this country and in the world. I felt that the characters in this play believed this as well and were so courageous in their work.
    I truly appreciated Jacqueline Lawton’s attempt to represent the intersectionality between race and gender, particularly in terms of Samella’s struggle to be successful in the art world as not only a woman, but also as a black woman. The relationship with race and gender is often overlooked in mainstream entertainment and the media, so I applaud Lawton’s representation of this very real struggle.

  4. I think that the most striking element of the play, for me personally, was the experience I had during the play versus what the play became after I sat through the talk back. Throughout the production, I thought the story was heartwarming, and, different from the other plays I’ve seen through this course, had a happy ending! However, what I didn’t really feel was the true revolutionary nature of the actions of the characters and their historical significance. Where did I discover this? In the talkback! So many individuals who truly related to the struggles and triumphs of the characters voiced their love for the brave individuals who went against the culture of the day and came together despite all of the violence and hate surrounding them.
    I think that what one could take away from my experience and that of my peers is the work faces a challenge to develop certain storylines and select historical facts which allow someone to attend the show without significant background knowledge and still appreciate it. I truly enjoyed it, but I developed immense respect and connection to these characters after understanding that, at the very least, these characters were real! It’s easy to do what Viktor did if he was only written from an author’s imagination- it is entirely another animal to know that he really existed and accomplished what he did.
    I appreciated the differing storyline of various characters. One storyline that I wish had been developed more was Gretel’s struggle to accomplish more with her life. Often times, this type of story references a woman who wants to do more but has never had the opportunity. Gretel was able to do more. She had a career in Austria. Yet, this life was stripped from her. How is this story different from others? How are the feelings/emotions different? I think this storyline is so worthwhile and would love to see it further explored!

    • I find it interesting that Anne refers to the ending as happy. Although I fully understand where she is coming from, I actually left the play very frustrated. The play was set in the 1940s, and although progress has been made, it was wearisome to me that so much prejudice still exists today. Presently, we still see segregation, although this may not be de jure segregation as it was in the 40s, it does still exist. One example of this is housing in the United States, which is still divided by class and race. I find this almost equally as frightening as the explicit racism in the 40s because the government and individuals are more likely to get away with this implicit segregation. I certainly agree with Anne’s last point, and I too would have liked to see Gretel’s struggle further addressed. Throughout the play she references this frustration she has with dealing with “the problem that has no name,” however I do not feel this conflict is addressed, or even fairly addressed.

  5. On Monday, I, like presumably many of the other students, sat through the entirety of Jacqueline Lawton’s “The Hampton Years” initially not knowing that the characters in the play were historical figures. So, I thought giving my initial reaction to the play without this knowledge could be helpful for Ms. Lawton.

    On the surface, I thought the general plot of this play mirrored so many other movies and storylines (i.e. Dead Poets Society or even more aptly Freedom Writers). Downtrodden students facing adversity are being forced by those in the outside world to pursue practical careers. However, they are inspired by a new dynamic and caring teacher to pursue their true artistic passion and ultimately realize greatness that they would not have realized had it not been for the teacher. Each character faces a point in the storyline where they could quit due to the adversity, but the characters persevere despite all odds. The teacher also at some point faces adversity from the administration, which threatens to cut funding for their program because of unorthodox teaching methods and presumed uselessness of the fine arts. Landmark and commonly known historical events affect the characters in the play. Something needs to be done to differentiate this plot from these other, commonly known plots.

    I think, given the fact the characters in “The Hampton Years” are real people, this could be accomplished. I thought the comments from the other audience members who personally knew the characters in the play were especially insightful. Their input could definitely help differentiate this plot taken as a whole. This play was definitely well written from the standpoint that it contained great dialogue between the different characters. The specific knowledge of art and different forms of art was thoroughly researched, and I believed that the teacher and students were legitimate art students. However, to separate the storyline from this common theme seen in other productions, something must be done.

  6. Once the post-reading discussion clarified that The Hampton Years is based off of historical events, certain dynamics in the play made more sense, and others less.
    As I listened to the reading, I was perplexed about the direction in which the tensions felt by Semella and Viktor’s wife were going: Viktor’s wife, who had a job back in Europe, is vaguely and lethargically discontent with her life as an American housewife. Yet although she mentions her unhappiness to Viktor at least twice, nothing develops from there. I by no means believe that in any work all tensions must be completely explored, but I was confused about why such a promising plot device was mentioned at all if it were to be subsequently neglected. On a similar note, although it is hard to determine from the play if the obstacles Semella encounters are really of a sexist nature or, as Viktor explains, indicative of a talent which simply needs further refinement, Semella’s frustrations never climax into a major conflict or a clear lesson. Yes, her statue is relegated to a museum basement, but all that comes from this disappointing outcome is a brief discussion with Viktor about how unfortunate it is. These unresolved, unexplored struggles made more sense when I learned that the play is a historical account—then, maybe, such explorations would be inappropriate digressions from the progress of the characters’ lives during, well, the Hampton years (as a non-titular phrase).
    Learning about the play’s historical roots made something else less clear to me: the omission of certain factual details, information that surfaced during the talkback. One viewer commented that Viktor lived in a black neighborhood and used the black bathrooms. Those decisions add even more depth to his character, and I wish the play had mentioned them. That would give so much potential for dialogue between Viktor and people questioning his reasoning. If these details were deliberately omitted for brevity’s sake– the playwright mentioned she had streamlined the play from about 170 pages to 100, if my memory is correct—I wish that the play’s sleepy, nostalgic conclusion had been condensed instead.
    I enjoyed that Viktor’s work on the artistic development of Children mirrored the personal and technical development of his students. It was interesting that Viktor possessed a mostly-likely inadvertent bias about black artists as being haptic, not visual, artists. I was, however, unfamiliar with the term “haptic” until I looked it up after the play.
    To close, I was delighted by the performance of the actors themselves—they read the script with incredible poise, depth of emotion, and animation—all while sitting in chairs! Because at times an actor would read the script but also direct their conversation and posture toward the scene’s other actors, it was clear the cast was itching to take the script to the stage.

  7. I think what really made this reading enjoyable for me was the strength of each individual character. Each character wore their hearts on their sleeves, to some extent, and it really made me emphasize with each character individually. To me the character of Margaret Lowenfeld was particularly strong, but not so much for the conventional reasons. She was not the center of the play and did not have a ton of speaking parts, but each time she spoke she was noticeably reassuring and confident. I could also tell that she was unsatisfied with the job of being a housewife, and i felt for her because i could tell that there was wisdom and intelligence beneath every comment she made. Without Margaret i think Dr. Lowenfield would’ve been a much weaker character, and it might enhance the play to see some scenes were she is not with the Doc. Then Margaret could really show how independent and free-thinking she is.

    One thing that kind of surprised me was that Dr. and Mrs. Lowenfeld were not discriminated against because of their accents. Obviously they are not German, however to the untrained American ear they sound German, and at the height of WWII i found it a little unbelievable that they did not encounter any discrimination on that basis. I know “The Hampton Years” is based on a true story so maybe they truly didn’t encounter any discrimination, but in a play that centers on the issue of discrimination against blacks this would obviously resonate.

    On a separate note, after seeing “Time Stands Still” at the Studio Theater, i’ve really come to appreciate the plays at Theater J. I thought the dialogue in “The Religion Thing” and also in “The Hampton Thing” was incredibly thought provoking. I’m looking forward to the next Theater J production.

  8. Certain segments of The Hampton Years resonated with me not because I am a Jew, or a Black, or because of my ethnicity, but because I grew up in culture where the scales are often tipped in favour of practicality, and against idealism. The Hampton Years, then, was a reflection of my struggles as I attempt (yes, even now) to balance the pursuit of my dreams, ambitions, and ideals, with societal expectations (particularly in meritocratic Singapore where a degree has to be from the top fifteen universities in the world for it to be valuable) that a vocation should serve one purpose, and one purpose only – to make money. Like the Black cast who were told that they would be rejected by a society who was unwelcoming to their craft, similarly, I had to grapple with pursuing my interests in the liberal arts, and deal with immense familial pressure to pursue prestige, and safer subjects such as Law, or Medicine. Ergo, viewing the reading of the play was a form of catharsis, in the sense that I could vicariously live out the roles of both John and Samella, believing that who I become, and what I decide to do, will not just be determined by the whims of society.

    Whilst I appreciated the realism of The Hampton Years that attempted to re-animate the turbulent period of America’s racist past, and enjoyed picking out the comparisons of the KKK and their lynching of Blacks with Hitler and his massacre of the Jews (for rhetorical effect), and thereby speaking to the hearts of the Jewish audience, I did, however, feel that inadequate attention has been devoted to the struggle for women rights, which was a leitmotif in those violent and formative years. It is my opinion that the overemphasis on racial rights, the fixation on racism, has diverted attention not merely away from the crucial role that women played in the ‘success’ of the civil rights movement, but also from the struggles that women had to grapple with. Thus, even though The Hampton Years, by chronicling the struggles and triumphs of African-American artists, might have reinforced and educated the audience on how we should not to forget the journey America has made from a country where Blacks were slaves, to a country where a Black can be a President, it has in doing so, neglected another crucial part of American history – the importance of leveling the playing field for both men and women. In doing so, The Hampton Years, like the many plays before it, and plays to come, has neglected a milestone in American history.

  9. The reading of Lawton’s new play was a truly enriching experience. The actors brought the play alive, despite being largely out of costume, set-less, and prop-less. What struck me most about the play was its ability to weave together both art history and local history while creating space for a much larger discussion on both African American and Jewish American history. Usually art history is presented as a topic on its own, separate from history itself, and I found Lawton’s ability to present both as pieces of a larger whole was very successful and touching. The interplay of various histories offered greater understanding of a common struggle between the black students of Hampton University and their Jewish professor, Viktor. I do wish the audience could have spent more time learning Victor and Margaret’s history. Throughout the play, there is a tension between the differences of the Lowenfelds’ and those of the black community members surrounding them. Viktor discusses his feelings of being essentially imprisoned in Vienna in a letter to John while he is receiving psychiatric help for his own feelings of imprisonment. Here the characters connect through their plights, but in another scene, Elizabeth makes comments to Viktor regarding his inability to teach his students fully because of his lack of knowledge of their struggle in particular. Here, the characters are divided despite of their struggles. This issue is looked at from a different angle when Samella and Viktor discuss who ought to be painting black figures in their work. She says something to the effect of “If I can’t paint them, and you can’t paint them, who can!” This brings up the question of who can record what history, and it becomes a central theme of the play as Viktor pushes the students to remember the past and fill every piece with personal stories, while the rest of the country does not want images of slavery or servitude to be painted or displayed.

  10. The story behind the “The Hampton Years” is truly inspirational and has potential to be a great play. That being said, I did not enjoy the “reading” format. I understand that different mediums are utilized to solicit different and unique feelings from the audience. However, this story did not mesh well with this medium. I felt that the narrator’s role was an awkward one. Every time she stated that an actor was supposed to make an action -“Viktor kisses his wife, etc.”- I waited for the action to no avail. The script was emotional and dramatic, and therefore needed movement to make it real. The actors were in character and often looked at each other and made hand gestures when they spoke, thus making it seem like we were watching a “play.” Yet, the actors were prohibited from moving! It was as if the characters were trapped. I understand that that is the point of a “reading” but I fail to see why one would even attempt to insert this dramatic plot into a non-dramatic setting. The previous two readings –“Married Sex” and “The Prostate Dialogues”- were obviously meant to be readings, and thus they “worked” as readings. The content of the play was solid but lacked maturity in both the “adult” sense and in the lack of development of the characters. For most of the play, I felt as if I was watching an ABC Family movie or The Brady Bunch. Dilemmas were solved instantly with everyone sharing a laugh or two. For instance, the University presidents were actually extremely accommodating, although initially made out to be bigots. The actors were perfect in their roles, but the script was too child-like as it often avoided real confrontation. Several characters had dilemmas that were either immediately solved or simply disregarded. For instance, the male student is drafted into the Navy and has a mental breakdown, but two lines later is back in Hampton with a smile on his face. Also, Viktor’s wife’s problems about her domestic life are never addressed. Her complacency was unsettling as it seemed fake. All in all, I believe I would enjoy “The Hampton Years” more in a film or dramatic play setting. I also believe that inserting more raw emotion into the dialogue would make it more real, and in turn a much more entertaining play.

  11. I really enjoyed Jacqueline E. Lawton’s The Hampton Years. Lawton’s dialogue and storyline were so rich and engaging that I found myself feeling like I was witnessing a full performance instead of just a reading.

    I think one of my favorite parts about The Hampton Years was Lawton’s interweaving of both racist and sexist problems. I was particularly drawn to the character of Margaret and her struggle for personal fulfillment. This “feminine mystique” as Friedan latter refers to it was something I was not expecting since it is typically more synonymous with the fifties and later time periods. I’m sure many women were having those feelings in the forties. I don’t know that I believe it was typical for them to express those feelings, although, in many ways Margaret certainly was not a typical woman of that time period. I was not expecting that she had been a professor along with Viktor when they were still living in Vienna. I found myself wondering why she chose to stay at home after they moved to the United States. Granted, if I’m not mistaken, Europe was more progressive and accepting of women working outside their homes, it still seems like she could have found something she would have enjoyed more than being at home.

    A particularly strong scene in my opinion was when Margaret was explaining to Betty how much she envied her life and her freedom to Mexico to teach and learn. Although I understood her frustration with her situation, it still seemed like an incredibly naïve statement. They both faced oppression as women, but at least Margaret did not have the added oppression of racial prejudice. If Margaret really wanted too, she could have chosen to continue teaching and working outside of the home. She chose to give into conformity and follow the social norms of the day. Betty could not change how she was treated by many/most of white society.

  12. Going into the reading of Jacqueline Lawton’s new play The Hampton Years, I had no idea what to expect. I thoroughly enjoyed the play and thought it was a very interesting and creative piece. Yet I had no idea until the talkback that I while I thought I was watching fiction, The Hampton Years is actually grounded in the historical events surrounding Viktor Lowenfeld’s founding of the art department at the Hampton Institute.
    Looking back at the play I now see it in a very different way. The relationships built by the actors were great, especially considering they were seated behind music stands the entire time. Yet despite this each character had great depth and intrigue, which should be attributed to both the actors and the playwright’s dramaturgical sense of historic detail. The struggles became more interesting, as well as the gender dynamics that Somella has to deal with. Yet the play came to life for me even more during the talkback when people started sharing their experiences of hearing how character’s in the play had progressed civil rights and the arts in history and sharing their stories of their years spent at Hampton, the college where the story takes place.
    I feel the only thing that would have improved my experience with the play is knowing the historical background before I saw the performance. I hope that when it becomes a full fledged production (which it should, as it is excellent) that historical background is given in the program. Had I had this information before watching the performance I would have had a very different experience, and wish that future audience members have the necessary background information to enjoy the production for the inspiring piece of theater that it is, as well as the inspiring historical tale, and not just the former.

  13. As I reflected on the “Hampton Years” I struggled to formulate an opinion on how I felt about the production. Obviously, this was just a reading and it should be judged as such. A greater amount of imagination was required; to experience the dialogue fully one had to visualize the scenes and try to forget that the cast was seated in a semi-circle. I actually found this easier to do then I had originally anticipated. The actors were captivating in their performances despite being seated which I was thoroughly impressed with.

    As they story progressed it became obvious that race and ethnicity would be at the forefront. Referred to his students simply as doc, Victor and his wife Margaret had fled the Hitler’s persecution in Austria for the safe haven of the United States. The persecution experienced by both Victor and his wife proved to be vital I believe, in relating with his new African American students who they themselves experienced there far share of persecution. To be clear however, there is no comparison between the horrors of the holocaust and racial prejudice but I still think there is enough of a similarity present that allowed Victor to better understand their situation and plight in life. Furthermore, I believe the students were more willing to share their feelings of struggle as African American artists because of Victor’s background story.
    This play sought to show the effect that racial prejudices had on individuals, in the case of Victor, Margaret, and his students. However, in one scene the play for me anyway, turned its back on this aim. It was the scene where the Catholic Church and her beliefs were openly mocked and ridiculed. I understand it was satire, I have a sense of humor but it crossed the line in my eyes. It seemed out of place in play where the characters were so caring and sensitive to each other and their backgrounds. I was puzzled then and I’m puzzled now, what did that add to the play except endorsing the very thing that the play was supposedly trying to fight against. Specifically, that all people deserve to have their race in the case of the African American students and their creed in the case of Victor and Margaret, respected.

  14. After attending the reading of “The Hampton Years”, I believe that I saw a play with a lot of potential that needs some fine-tuning. To start, I was initially blown away by how realistic the playwright, Jacqueline Lawton, made the characters. It was not until the post-play discussion, did I find out that the play was based on real events and real people. While this may appear to trivialize the accomplishment of crafting real and complex characters because they were already real and complex people, I think it just made the play more impressive.
    As an outsider I was able to come to the play, meet the characters, and understand who they were and develop a connection. Lawton showed me that Viktor was a proud and determined man intent on helping others but also at times interested in bathing in the limelight his department and students received as well. While I could have maybe gotten that impression by reading about his life, hearing it expressed vocally on stage had much more impact. I was also about to hear the disappointment and envy in Samella’s voice in a way that only a good actress, with well-crafted lines, could convey.
    That being said, I do believe Lawton could improve the play in certain areas. To start, I think at times the transitions between time periods was a bit jumpy. I was startled to hear that John was being hospitalized. While this is often a good way to keep the audience engaged, I found it a bit distracting because I was trying to see if I had missed a detail. I also was confused by the fact that he had been drafted into the army but was still attending school. I did not fully appreciate that training occurred on campus until he came up to Viktor with the petition. Finally, I did feel the play dragged on a bit at the end. I cannot site a specific scene or moment that was too long, but I felt a bit restless towards the conclusion.
    Overall, I enjoyed the play and felt that it had a lot to offer. The story was compelling and on a historical topic I have never studied. The characters were unique and complex. For those reasons, I hope that Lawton continues tightening up the script so that it can one day be preformed.

  15. Frankly, I was shocked to learn that “The Hampton Years” was a non-fiction play. While certain historical events were clearly factual, I was under the impression that the characters were fictional.
    At the end of the play I found myself not only attached to but also adoring of Samella. The perseverance of her character coupled with the actresses’ realistic depiction of her constantly frustrated emotional state made me emotionally invested in her. She remained persistent after being shutdown and continually worked to prove herself, which I found significant considering the traditional role of women in society at this time. When I was introduced to the playwright during the talkback of the show I was under the impression that Samella, in some way, may be a reflection of her (even though I was aware Samella is a non-fictional character). The enthusiasm and bliss that Samella responds with when told she was put up for consideration by Viktor to teach at Hampton mirrored the emotions that Jacqueline displayed during the initial feedback she received after the reading.
    Leaving the play I had a vivid image of the scene where Margaret, Elizabeth and Samella were canning peaches in the Lowenfeld’s dining room ingrained in my mind. I think that the description of the canned peaches covering the room and the ladies sorting them into boxes remained with me because of the vibrant orange-yellow color of peaches. Because other scenes lacked the
    Lastly, I found the interactions between Margaret and Viktor to be memorable. I found it surprising that Margaret voiced the lack of fulfillment she felt in her life to Viktor. This seemed unusual of women at the time; however, I was pleased to see that the woman standing up for herself. While I was not always pleased with the way Viktor responded to Margaret’s lack of fulfillment it did seem as if he aspired for Margaret to be satisfied in life which I found important.

  16. Though some aspects of the play were slightly cliche or underdeveloped, there were certain areas that I thoroughly enjoyed. Most particularly, the character of Viktor Lowenfeld was fascinating– he essentially stole the show for me. He had a complex, cloudy background that left me frequently yearning to know more about him, his motives, and his past life in general. Why did he decide to teach at Hampton when he had offers from more prestigious schools? From where does his seemingly great respect for African Americans stem? How does his relationship with his wife affect his decisions? The playwright did a fantastic job of keeping me engaged with Viktor’s character, and gave him some great dialogue that helped add depth and meaning to the performance. For example, I especially enjoyed the scenes where he employed unconventional methods when teaching John and Samella. The uniqueness and genius of Viktor shone through, creating a very believable and interesting character. I also enjoyed the ways in which he could relate to the repression of the African Americans because of his own experiences with Jewish prejudice. Though I would have liked to see this theme pushed a little more, I do think that the playwright touched on a very important and meaningful idea.

    The historical nature of the work was also appealing. Though I did not realize that the play was based on real events until after the reading, the play took on a new meaning for me, and the characters and place became more real and genuine. The play piqued my interest about these incredible people and led to some further research on their interesting lives. Overall, while not perfect, I do believe that this play has the potential to be a powerful way to convey a meaningful and intriguing story.

  17. Being that this was the first time I have attended a reading at a theater, I did not know what to expect. I wasn’t sure to what extent the stage directions would be read, if only one person was going to read it versus many people, or how much emphasis on voice acting would be included. Much to my relief, the voice acting was phenomenal, there were a wide range of readers, and only necessary stage directions were brought to our attention. In terms of how “The Hampton Years” was presented, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
    Like many other people, I was surprised to hear in the talkback that the play was historical. Throughout the entire play, I automatically assumed that it was a fiction play; my instinct in theater is to believe that unless told otherwise. Before I learned that the play was non-fiction, there were some aspects of the play that I didn’t necessarily like. For example, I felt the play was a tad cliché with some of the historical additions that went parallel to the story. Also, the play was rather jumpy and often left huge gaps in the story. For example, I was blindsided by the fact that John ended up in the mental hospital. There was no story that led up to that moment, but rather it just happened suddenly without warning to the audience. Yet after I learned that the play was historical, this all changed. I understand you cannot tell the full true story of a group of people without omitting a few things. As the playwright pointed out, the initial play was 170 pages long. It only makes sense that you would have to trim out less exciting or important portions. Also, knowing the play was historical allowed me to understand why the play happened parallel to historical events because, well, it actually DID happen parallel to historical events.
    Overall, the play was phenomenal. I really hope this play makes it to the stage someday. I look forward to seeing how some scenes (such as the extremely descriptive flashbacks) will be brought to life on the stage. I can’t wait to see great acting combined the true emotion displayed by the readers. Ultimately, this is a story that needs to be told. Not only did I feel I learned a great amount, but it left me wanting more, wanting to research who these great people were.

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