Notre Dame student writes and stages a new production exploring the story cycle
Pasquerilla East Musical Co (PEMCo) staged Monomythical, the second theater production by fifth-year Notre Dame architecture student Solomon Duane. The show ran from September 29–30 in Washington Hall. Duane wrote both the playbook and musical numbers for this full-scale production following his successful production of Dawn’s Early Light in spring 2023.
Amidst the frustration of workshopping Dawn’s Early Light in the summer of 2022, Duane began to think, “What if you had a character who was essentially a god, and had total control over the universe of the stage world?”
Through this consideration, he conceived of Monomythical. The musical seeks to reckon with the distinction between “the world of the stage” and the “the world of the audience as we know it.” According to Duane’s “artist’s letter” in the program, the show is a “love letter to storytelling.”
A monomyth is the hero’s journey—from call, challenge, abyss, and transformation to a final revelation and return. Monomythical plays upon this typical structure, breaking apart the roles of everyone from the protagonist to the audience.
After the opening musical numbers, which include “I Want to Break Out,” by Hera, the show’s protagonist, the audience is introduced to “Old Man” Emmanuel.
For as long as she can remember, Hera has visited this sickly man daily to remind him to take his medication. While on her visit, Hera’s energetic best friend, Elise, bursts onto stage with exciting news: Hera’s boyfriend, Nathan, plans to propose.
The typical hero’s cycle is broken, however, when a supposed audience member, Christian, gets up from his seat to use the restroom. He enters the world of the stage, disrupting Hera’s circle, or “hero’s journey.” Everything then starts to go wrong. Hera refuses Nathan’s proposal because of Christian, Emmanuel dies after Hera forgets to visit him, Elise seduces Nathan, and Hera’s hard-hitting boss is now concerned for her well-being.
Through Christian, Hera comes to realize that she is a character in a play and begins to grapple with the consequences of her actions. During the last scene, she and Christian acknowledge their feelings for each other, but recognize that the cycle must reset for the show to start over. The other characters return to their blocking for the first scene. Christian leaves the circle, and Hera takes her place in the eighth seat as the lights and music cut out.
Duane told the Rover, “The idea was that in the end Hera realizes that this whole thing has been ordained, there was a script and it was followed. … She kind of consigns herself, she makes the choice to stay within that story cycle to stay in her place, and sit in the final chair and complete the story the way it’s supposed to.”
Senior Janey Olohan enjoyed the performance, telling the Rover, “The show exceeded all expectations. It had an eerie and complex plot including romance, mystery, a stellar cast, and incredible choreography directed by my good friend Theresa.”
Theology PhD candidate James Whitaker commented on the tension between free will and the role of providence in the show. [Editor’s note, Whitaker is Humor Editor for the Irish Rover]
Whitaker told the Rover, “At first glance, the tension in Monomythical is one of free will versus fate. As Hera struggles to depart from her ordinary life, she finds that her actions have still followed the eight-step cycle of the monomyth in ways she didn’t foresee.
“Hera has free-will, and she freely elects to do each of her actions, which affect the lives of every person around her. There is no doubt that she has agency,” he continued. That is, though Hera is ultimately resigned to her fate, Whitaker did not find the lesson of the show to be a deterministic one.
Whitaker concluded, “Hera’s frustration is not that she is powerless, but that she is less powerful than the playwright. In this light, one of Christianity’s central tenets shines through: It is just and good that the creature is not the Creator. … In this obsessive desire to be higher than she is, she loses sight of the wonderful role she has been given to play. She forgets, for a time, what an honor it is to be the heroine of a romantic musical.”
Duane echoed this sentiment, telling the Rover, “It’s not that [Hera] doesn’t have free will within the universe of the stage.” Rather, the characters are “confined to that universe, just as you and I have freewill, but … there is a divine plan.” He also noted that he is “not a philosopher,” and that “Monomythical wasn’t meant to be a commentary on reality, but rather a deconstruction of the world of storytelling while finding ways to defy and reinvent theatrical tropes.”
Duane did not want to fill the play with an overly moralizing message, though. According to Duane, the show is, at the end of the day, “about a character who falls in love with an audience member and learns something from that.”
Monomythical was recorded in full and will be available on YouTube.
Elizabeth Hale is a junior studying political science. Much like Hera, she has yet to realize that she is, in fact, the main character and center of the universe(ity). To let her know how important everything she does is, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merlot Fogarty is a senior studying theology and political science. She often feels caught in a monomyth of her own where she must overcome her lack of sleep with sufficient caffeine. Anyone with better ideas on how to combat sleep deprivation can email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Monomythical Production Team
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