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Brockport professor directs play in New York City

by Kristina Livingston - Managing Editor
Tue, Apr 4th 2017 10:00 pm
Photo courtesy of Tara Kiernan

The College at Brockport professor Francis Kuhn, with the help of some of Brockport's graduate students, directed the critically acclaimed play `Leah, the Foresaken` in New York City.
Photo courtesy of Tara Kiernan The College at Brockport professor Francis Kuhn, with the help of some of Brockport's graduate students, directed the critically acclaimed play "Leah, the Foresaken" in New York City.

 With the recent political climate being concerned with refugees, xenophobia, ethnic and religious hostility, Professor of Theatre Francis Kuhn happened upon a directing opportunity at the Metropolitan Playhouse in the East Village of New York City which aligned with his 2017 sabbatical period. "Leah, the Forsaken" has been classified as a melodrama by Kuhn himself, and relies upon a script that is over 135 years old.

"The play, about a Hungarian Jewish refugee persecuted in Austria in the early 18th century, seemed topical because of the flood of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Syria and Africa," Kuhn wrote in an email.  "We had no idea that by the time it opened, the play's concern with ... fear of "the other" would become more immediately relevant to Americans." 

Kuhn was drawn to "Leah, the Forsaken" due to its intriguing script, as well as the challenge of returning a mid-19th century hit back to the stage.

Running from February 17 until March 12, "Leah, the Forsaken" has been noticed by reviewers for The New York Times, theaterscene.net and talkinbroadway. 

The New York Times said of Kuhn's involvement, "With a cast of 15, Francis X. Kuhn, the director, has his job cut out for him on the small Metropolitan stage. He manages well." 

Throughout the development process, Kuhn worked tirelessly with a variety of other theater professionals to best craft his vision. Bringing in designers to perfect scenery, costumes, lighting and sound, Kuhn also collaborated with a dialect coach to develop a "sound" for the Hungarian refugees depicted in the play, as well as a professional fight director to choreograph stage violence. 

According to Kuhn, casting was key. Of 2,500 resumes, 100 actors were auditioned, narrowing down to a cast of 15.

"We ended up with a talented, congenial cast, and that made a great difference to the production," Kuhn wrote.  "The actors were willing to fully commit to the heightened language and emotions of the script, while maintaining a believable emotional honesty.  And it was about the most congenial, collaborative ensemble with which I've worked."

Amongst those involved included three The College at Brockport graduates: Matthew DeLuca ('16), cast as the role of Jacob, Teresa Campbell ('14) worked as assistant director, and Jonathan Allentoff ('14) as music consultant. The presence of these familiar faces added to Kuhn's directorial experience, as he has worked to ensure the start of their success in the theater world, pushing them to find success in internships and roles.

"For Matt and Teresa, who are early in their careers, I saw the gig as an extension of their education," Kuhn wrote. "And I suspect I was annoyingly "teacherish" on occasion during the process with both of them, though I tried to restrain myself. I've been working with Jonathan for a few years on developing a musical, so it felt like an extension of our ongoing collaboration."

It is Kuhn's hope that by proxy of his association with the success of a critically acclaimed play housed with a reputable company, as well as that by his colleagues and former students who he worked alongside for the duration of "Leah, the Forsaken," that potenial students who may not have considered The College of Brockport prior may now have an awareness of it, regardless of whether they are interested in a career in theater. Throughout the entire experience, it has been in Kuhn's interest to best counsel Brockport theater students with whom he collaborates in professional engagements in order to best prepare them for a rich future in the theatrical business.

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