By Paul Schmitt
The Page Theatre’s black box studio was transformed into a psychiatric ward recently for the showing of “He Who Fights With Monsters,” a play produced exclusively by Saint Mary’s University students.
Featuring senior Brian Pipal as a government inspector charged with evaluating the conditions of psychiatric wards across the country, the play focused on one hospital in particular, the director of which was performing illegal and unethical experiments on his patients.
After visiting with a couple patients and learning about their conditions, Pipal’s character comes to realize the issues inherent in treating the mentally ill and is faced with the dilemma of how to most effectively help the patients and stop the illicit experimentation.
For many of the students involved, such as playwright Alex Green, the play served as a senior project and the culmination of their studies in theatre. Due to this added importance, planning for the show began after the sophomore year of this year’s graduating class.
The involvement of so many people in the creative process did have drawbacks, however. “The initial idea was that our entire senior class would use the piece as a grad project, and so at the beginning I felt compelled to include everyone’s wishes in the script. While that made for some great characters to be studied, it also made the plot very disjointed and weak,” said Green. “In later drafts, after it was clear people wouldn’t be using the show for their projects, I was able to make adjustments in favor of a stronger storyline.”
Guiding the direction of the play, said director Lydia Munroe, was a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Because Green stepped out of the creative process once his script was finished, Munroe was largely responsible for knowing Green’s intentions regarding the play, and said that she strove to “take that knowledge and apply to the show so that all of the elements he worked on would be present and clear.”
A notable aspect of the play was the ethical issue raised about mental health treatment, though Green said that “any issues raised dealing with faults of the mental health system were secondary, at least in my mind, to the crafting of engaging characters and an entertaining story.”
Regardless, the play saw great attendance at each of its three free showings, boasting a full house for both Friday and Saturday nights.