Student director driving force behind Rogers Center play

Nathaniel Vilandre '16 of Shrewsbury, Mass., will be Merrimack College's first theater major to direct a full-length play, when a cast and crew from the Visual and Performing Arts Department perform playwright Paula Vogel's “How I Learned to Drive” at the Rogers Center for the Arts March 10-12.

The play is rich with themes of redemption, acceptance, coping, and moving forward with life,” Vilandre said.

“One of the reasons that I’m drawn to the piece is the social justice component,” he said. “It deals with the concept of sexual assault, particularly in the family setting. In the end, it gives the main character the opportunity not only to forgive the abuse but the opportunity to forgive herself and live; to move on in a way and live her life without being held back by it anymore.”

Vogel visited Merrimack College as writer-in-residence at the Writers House Feb. 24-25. During her visit Vogel met with the cast and crew of the latest rendition of her play that was first performed off Broadway in 1997. During the lengthy meeting she helped explain some of the nuances of the drama, Vilandre said.

“She was very accepting and validating of what we are doing here,” Vilandre said. “Having a playwright is always a gift but the experience we had with her was particularly exciting.”

Vilandre directed while in high school and has been an assistant director on other plays in college, including productions of “Doubt” in February 2014 and “Next to Normal” in April 2015.

He recently reached the regional finals as a stage director during the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival regional competition held Jan. 30 in Danbury, Conn.

The cast includes Mick Lonati ’17, a double major in elementary education and theater, of Franklin, Mass.; Griffin Ostrowski ’18, a theater major, of Plymouth, Mass.; John Barbetto ’18, a theater major, of Bridgewater, Mass.; Travis Ciempa ’19, a double major in theater and psychology with a minor in women’s and gender studies, of Adams, Mass.; Marina Apostolou, a graduate student with a dual certification in elementary education and mild to moderate disabilities; Gaby Martello ’18, a double major in sociology and women’s and gender studies, of Mamaroneck, N.Y.; and Visual and Performing Arts Chair Kathleen Sills.

Shows are scheduled each night at 7:30 and a 2 p.m. matinee March 12. Admission is $10.



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