The Final Curtain
Washington College drama students have been through a lot in the past 27 years. They’ve seen student theater groups come and go. They’ve listened as actress and then-National Endowment for the Arts Chair Jane Alexander bemoaned the lack of funding for the arts during her convocation address in 1997. And, between the spring of 2006 and the fall of 2009, they endured the nomadic life of a department without a home, as the Gibson Center for the Arts was renovated. But through it all was the constant presence of professors Tim Maloney and Jason Rubin—or, as they’re known colloquially, T.M. and Jason.
“I know I’m not alone when I say that after every conversation with Jason or T.M., regardless of my mindset beforehand, I always left feeling better—and wishing that I had my own tiny T.M. or Jason to put in my pocket and carry around with me for whenever I needed guidance,” says 2011 Stewart Drama Award winner Maggie Matthews. “I still can’t believe how fortunate my drama peers and I were to have such valuable and vastly different springs of knowledge and insight within our reach.”
Sometimes, that knowledge and insight translated into original work.
Diagnosed with germ cell cancer at age 14, Kate Mahoney ’00 wrote a monologue about the fight for her life for a class taught by Rubin in her junior year.
“I’d never shared this part of myself theatrically. In one moment, I was so totally caught off guard by my emotion and my vulnerability [that] I ran out of the room sobbing,” says Mahoney. “Jason called me into his office and said, ‘I think you have to do this as your thesis.’”
Backed by Rubin, Mahoney turned her monologue into a one-woman show.
“T.M., after approving my plan to write about my life and after reading drafts of monologues, sat down with me and said, ‘No one wants to hear you talk about yourself for an hour,’” Mahoney recalls. “I was stunned. I was devastated. I was angry. He went on to say that I should not be me, but rather me playing me. […] Opening night, I walked off stage and found T.M. waiting in the wings. I looked at him, still unsure of what I’d just done and said, “Well…?” He grinned from ear to ear and gave me a great big hug.”
And now, Mahoney can finally understand her professor’s instruction.
“In drama, there is a thin line between appreciating the art in life and creating unnecessary drama. It took a few years to translate T.M.’s advice for my show into advice for auditions, but the subtlety and nuances in character work earned me a couple call backs for paying work,” says Mahoney.
While Mahoney says she’ll continue to carry those lessons learned from Jason and T.M., this spring semester will be Maloney and Rubin’s last at Washington College. Rubin, a professional set designer who joined the faculty in 1986, hopes to continue his research on a history of popular entertainment in Baltimore from 1876 through 1932. Because he lives within walking distance of the Maryland Institute, College of Art and the University of Baltimore, he may teach part-time as well.
“I want to travel, but not over the Bay Bridge—unless for a wedding or a party,” says Rubin. “I’m tired of the commute from Baltimore to Chestertown.”
And Maloney, the College’s longest-serving faculty member who, in 1966, was hired as the director of the new Gibson Arts Center and charged with the task of creating a drama department, will simply keep looking for and testing ways to be creative.
“I have some things I intend, at least for now, to try, but I have no deadlines and no guidelines,” says Maloney. “And that suits me just fine.”
But before they go, the two will stage one final production. William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear goes up in Decker Theatre April 4-7. Rubin will direct it, and Maloney will play the title role.
In the play, Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. He gives them a test to prove how much they love him. Cordelia, the youngest, doesn’t flatter him the way her sisters do, so he disowns her and takes away her third of the kingdom.
“What he’s doing is expressing his power and authority as king,” says Rubin. “We’re going to investigate the chaos that ensues once he makes his decision, and how he learns more about himself by the end of the play when most everybody’s dead because of this action.”
Neither Rubin nor Maloney have ever been involved in a production of The Tragedy of King Lear. But then, they’ve never been involved in a production that evolved quite like this one.
The Tragedy of King Lear is the culmination of a course that Maloney and Rubin are co-teaching with Kate Moncrief, chair of the English Department and resident Shakespeare expert. The idea was born in one of the great hatcheries of insight—a dinner party. The conversation went on for two semesters, as Maloney and Moncrief tried to pick a Shakespeare play that could keep a class occupied for a full semester and end in a production.
“And the idea never really died—it was just that Kate and I could never agree on a play,” says Maloney. “Some of them, like Hamlet, were dismissed because, as I said, ‘there’s no way I’m going to play Hamlet now,’ so that narrowed the choices considerably. And Lear just, all by itself, rose to the top of the list.”
The text is substantial, they could work with it for a whole semester, and Maloney was a fine fit for the lead role.
At first, everyone assumed that Dale Daigle would direct the play, as he had many of the other Shakespeare productions at the College. But when Rubin announced his retirement, Daigle handed over the reins.
Of course, the class hasn’t been without its share of headaches. The professors had to hold auditions prior to class registration, and figuring out the rehearsal schedule for the more than 30 students involved has been, as Rubin puts it, “a logistical nightmare.” But the reward is great. This time, the production is more than a play. It’s an educational tool. Now, the challenge is how to translate its text to a modern audience.
“I think the play is very contemporary. I see what Lear goes through happening all the time,” says Maloney. “I mean, Lear begins as King Lear, largely defined by a position. He is King, and so he feels compelled to uphold that—to be that. And he goes from that to being a beggar, to being almost nothing before he begins to get a sense of the value of things without all this other stuff that defines him. It’s not something alien to the ordinary person. It’s something we all encounter.”
A big part of making the play accessible has fallen on the shoulders of drama and English major Maegan Clearwood ’13, who will act as the play’s dramaturge to fulfill her senior capstone experience. And while she was terrified to take on the text at first, the chance to work with Maloney and Rubin proved too good to pass up.
“It’s an incredible honor to be involved with T.M. and Jason’s final play, let alone have it count as my SCE. They’re true masters of their craft, but they’re also patient, open-minded mentors who understand what it’s like for students to feel as if we’re in over our heads,” says Clearwood. “This thesis could have just felt like a year-and-a-half slogging through research, but with T.M. and Jason, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Once the curtain falls on The Tragedy of King Lear, Rubin and Maloney will finish teaching their classes, put the final grades on exams, and see the class of 2013 off at the College’s 230th Commencement. As for the future of the department without them, they’re not too worried.
“There will be someone who will replace me, someone else who will teach what I do,” says Maloney. “Life will go on. Education will go on. I’ll just be elsewhere.”
“I agree with Tim whole-heartedly on that,” adds Rubin. “It’s a new department when we leave. Let the younger generation take care of it. It’s my time to go.”
But, whether they admit it or not, Maloney and Rubin have made an indelible impression on their students, coworkers and the College community at large.
“Suffice to say that, since T.M. built the department 47 years ago, his impact is overwhelming,” says Michele Volansky, Chair of the Drama Department. “As I have been checking in with alums over the past year or so, I am struck by the respect, devotion and downright reverence that so many still have for him. As for Jason,” she adds, “again, alums recent and not-so-recent praise him for his sly sense of humor, his dedication to his art, and his ever-present insights on a never-ending series of topics. I can’t tell you how much we are all going to miss them both next August.”
Karly Kolaja ’11 is assistant editor of the Washington College Magazine.