Playwright comes to Western to direct ‘Cry Havoc’

Jocelyn Robinson

In January, playwright Tom Coash left the warmth of his home in Bermuda for a cold Kentucky winter and an opportunity to work with Western students.

Coash was invited to Western by Scott Stroot as part of the theatre department’s visiting artist program. Stroot, the head of the department, said he thinks it’s good for students to get a new perspective from visiting artists.

Coash is directing Western students in a performance of his play “Cry Havoc.” It is partly a love story between two young men in Cairo and partly about politics and terrorism in the Middle East, Coash said.

Coash began writing “Cry Havoc” while teaching in Cairo. The idea for the play formed after tourists visiting Luxor were killed by terrorists, which Coash said was rare. There was no anti-American sentiment in Egypt at that time, he said.

“I thought ‘What could drive you to such an extreme?'” he said. “It opened my eyes to totalitarian governments where people are driven to the wall. They want to change the world, and they think violence is the only way to do it.”

Most acts of violence are committed out of love — love of country and love of religion, Coash said.

“In their minds, they’re doing the right thing,” he said. “I wanted to put a human face on that side of the story.”

Coash began writing the play about four years ago. At the time, Egypt was a topic and place that people cared little about. But after Sept.11, it became a place “we’re all interested in,” Coash said.

After reading the play, the Muslim Student Association at Western was concerned about possible misconceptions of Islam among the audience and expressed those concerns to Coash.

Zubair Mohamed, the faculty adviser for the group, said that Coash was open to the association’s concerns about the play.

“We plan to wait and see what the reaction is and based on that, clarify the issues with more information,” Mohamed said.

Coash said the communication between him and Mohamed has been friendly.

“They had some valid questions, and I think we soothed their fears,” Coash said.

On opening night, the play will be followed by an open discussion with Coash and John Long, the head of the religious studies department, who will answer any questions the audience might have.

In addition to his work with students while producing the play, Coash is also lecturing English and theatre classes.

On Jan. 29, Coash brought his play and his experiences to English professor Pat Taylor’s drama writing class. After a brief introduction, Coash began the workshop by handing students a list of important components of any play.

Coash said he refers to this list, which he created while in graduate school, when writing a play.

The list includes ideas such as setting, conflict and resolution, characters and the importance of images.

“Of course, there are no rules for play writing,” Coash said. “There are all kinds of different ways to do things.”

Students listened intently as Coash stood behind the desk, drumming his fingers on the lectern and gesturing as he talked to the class. He read down his list, using examples from the “Wizard of Oz” to emphasize the different aspects of a play.

Coash said he typically uses the “Wizard of Oz” as an example when teaching students. He said the film is familiar to almost everybody and gives students an easy way to understand the components of a play.

Students seemed to enjoy the workshop, and many were motivated by what they learned.

“It opened my mind to a different way of thinking when it comes to writing,” said Owensboro senior Shelly Cecil. “I have a place to start when I write now. I’m not completely in the dark.”

Taylor, who said she was intrigued by Coash’s writing exercises, asked him to visit another one of her classes.

Another class Coash will visit is theatre professor James Brown’s sound design class. Brown said that sound is a very strong element in “Cry Havoc” and is an important part of any production.

“This is an opportunity for students to talk to the man who created the play and directed it on campus,” Brown said. “It’s quite a unique experience.”

Taylor said she thinks using visiting artists can be very beneficial to students.

“It gives students an opportunity to see how different people work,” she said.

Coash said he enjoys doing the workshops with students. Play writing isn’t really taught anywhere because most teachers don’t know how to teach it, he said.

“Play writing is a great thing,” Coash said. “Narratives, poems — you can put anything into a play. It’s a lot of fun.”

Reach Jocelyn Robinson at [email protected]

What: “Cry Havoc”

When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Where: Gordon Wilson Hall Theatre

How Much: Tickets are $6 at the door.