February 9, 2004

Gunderson play Leap s onstage

By Brian Green

From Feb. 12-21, Theater Emory will present the world premiere of Leap , a play exploring science, art and creativity written by award-winning playwright and Emory senior Lauren Gunderson, who already has had work produced off-Broadway.

In Leap , two mysterious young sisters visit Cambridge student Isaac Newton and impart wisdom from the future, inspiring the thinking that would lead to his greatest discoveries. Based on scientific and historical fact, Leap infuses myth, biography and science into a new story about one of Western culture's greatest minds.

This exploration of right and left brain power, relationships, youth and brilliance is only the second play by an undergraduate to be produced in the company's 21-year history.

"This play came in part out of my experiences at Emory--and it's an academic play, so it's wonderful to see it performed here," Gunderson said. "It's a fantastic honor. I hope people from all disciplines see the show and realize how much all of us--artists, scientists, academics and professionals--have in common."

Gunderson wrote the play because of her interest in the process of creation, and the similarities between the scientific and the artistic mind.

"I was fascinated with the scientist, as opposed to simply the science, that was Newton," she said. "I wanted to parallel his life with the science he created."

Gunderson chose Newton--famous for, among other things, the invention of calculus and the theory of gravity--because he is "one of the biggest figureheads of modern science, right up there with Aristotle, Darwin and Einstein.

"He did so much that affects our daily lives," she said, "and was such an enigmatic and distinctive personality, that he makes for great drama."

The sisters in Leap , Brightman and Maria, prove to be the inspiration for many of Newton's greatest achievements. Whether these two women are muses, angels or something else is left for the audience to decide.

Gunderson drew on her own relationship with her sister in developing the characters, who bicker and love each other as only sisters can. As they play games with Newton, they inspire in him the brilliant insights for which he would later become so famous. Along the way, the cerebral Newton is frustrated by the concrete, real-world needs of his family, embodied in his mother.

"The character of the mother serves to remind Newton--and us--that while he is developing his brilliant theories, the world is still turning, and life is going on," Gunderson said.

Directed by Emory alumna Megan Monaghan, '91C, Leap stars Emory students Alex Brooks, Angela Porter and Lori Watson as Newton, Brightman and Maria, respectively.

Gunderson's early success has included performances of her work on high-profile stages. In 2002, her play Parts They Call Deep was a winner in the national Young Playwrights Festival competition founded by Stephen Sondheim and was one of only three winners selected for full productions off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater as part of the festival. Gunderson has had other plays produced, including short plays at PushPush Theatre in Atlanta and as part of the New York 10-Minute Play Fest. One of her plays is a finalist for the Heidemann Award for 10-minute plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Her recent work, Background , has just won the 2004 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, making her the first two-time winner (Parts They Call Deep was a recipient in 2001). The new play will be produced as part of Essential Theatre's 2004 Festival of New American Theatre in the Top Shelf Space at Dad's Garage, opening on Feb. 18.

Leap runs Feb. 12-21, with 8 p.m. performances on Feb. 12-13 and Feb. 19-21, and 2 p.m. matinees on Feb. 14, 15 and 21. An "Artists Up Close" discussion will be held following the Feb. 14 show. General admission tickets are $15 for the public; $12 for Emory faculty, staff and discount groups; and $6 for Emory students. Tickets may be purchased through the Arts at Emory Box Office at 404-727-5050 or online at www.emory.edu/ARTS/ .