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Alumna's play comes to life at Schwartz Center

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Blaine Friedlander

Theatre arts major Myles Kenyon Rowland '11 has a long list of stage credits at Cornell's Schwartz Center, playing characters ranging from a footman in "The Bourgeois Gentleman" to Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet." Now Rowland is working behind the scenes as director of the main stage production "Precious Little."

The play, written by Madeleine George '96, is being performed now through Feb. 26 at the Schwartz Center.

"Every four to five years, an undergraduate proves him or herself capable of participating in our honors directing program," said Schwartz Center artistic director David Feldshuh, professor of acting and directing. "This student must evidence skill, considerable understanding of the art and craft of directing, the ability to work with professional actors considerably older than he or she, and a sense of responsibility and leadership that have earned the respect of faculty and peers. Myles has met all of these challenges."

"Precious Little" centers on an aging linguist who discovers that her baby-to-be may have a genetic abnormality. Through a series of unexpected and often touching discoveries, she gains a new understanding and appreciation for life forms less fluent than herself.

The play continues the Cornell Playwrights' Project, dedicated to producing plays by Cornell alumni. In the fall of 2008, the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance-sponsored project presented "God's Ear" by Jenny Schwartz '95.

"This is a beautifully written play that touches on a lot of important issues that people don't talk about often," Rowland said. "Issues like the challenges of balancing work and family; science and genetic testing and how that's changed the experience of pregnancy and childbirth; and just the basic issue of how people communicate with each other and with other animals."

Sarah K. Chalmers, a resident professional teaching associate in the department, said working with a student director has been exciting.

"In any collaborative process, the hope is that everyone learns and grows together, especially in an educational setting," Chalmers said. "This has certainly been the case with 'Precious Little.' I think I've learned just as much as Myles."

The play shows women from three generations who are in different phases of life, Chalmers said: "Brodie's struggles are painted against the backdrop of her relationships with the other women (human and ape) in the play, and it is through these relationships that she is able to move forward."

"College students will relate to the difficulty of maintaining relationships when struggling with their own personal issues," said Sharisse Taylor '11, who plays the part of Dre. "That's something that definitely spoke to me while working on this play."

The Cornell production of "Precious Little" is a world premiere, of sorts. Although the play has been performed before, George has transformed her original version, written for three actors playing multiple roles, to a production involving six actors. George visited campus twice to meet with students and work on that transformation, and attended opening night Feb. 16.

"As a student Cornell was an intellectual and artistic incubator for me -- it's where I read my first experimental plays, took my first -- and last! -- acting class, and studied linguistics, which would later become the subject matter of this play," George said. "Working with Myles and the other students ... I'm reminded of how ambitious Cornell has always been for its theatre students. It's not enough to be either smart or intuitive here; this department demands that you be both."

Evening performances of "Precious Little" continue at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24-26. For tickets and information, visit the at the Schwartz Center Box Office, 430 College Ave., between 12:30-4 p.m. weekdays, call 607-254-2787 or visit http://www.schwartztickets.com. Tickets are $12; $10 students and seniors.

Kathy Hovis is manager of marketing and public relations for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance.


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