The School of Performing Arts presents “Sleep Deprivation Chamber” by Adam P. Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy as the second production of its “Season of Empowerment.”

“Sleep Deprivation Chamber” details the events surrounding the brutal attack and wrongful arrest of Adam P. Kennedy in 1991. Displaying multiple simultaneous viewpoints, it distills their combined experiences into a telling exposé rich with his mother’s “meta-theatrical style,” which uses dream and memory to create visceral probes of the conscious and subconscious experiences.

The story of the Kennedys' struggles for justice unfold as the main character, Teddy, is rehearsing a production of “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare at Antioch College.  The play uses this device, as well as dream, letters, and direct legal transcripts, to display a robust, kaleidoscopic telling of their story that speaks to the core of the multiplicity of realities at play in any one event.

Cast members of "Sleep Deprivation Chamber" rehearse.
(From left) Derek Johnson Jr. and Bryanna Batts look over the script during a short pause at rehearsal. Photo by Ashley Cooper for Virginia Tech.

The choice to include “Sleep Deprivation Chamber,” which portrays the acts of violence committed against Teddy as well as the resulting arrest and trial, was not one taken lightly by the committee responsible for programming the theatrical season. “It’s related to the philosophy of Say Their Names — that by speaking out, telling their stories, acknowledging what has happened — we strive toward social justice,” said director David R. Gammons.

This production is also the result of Gammons’ own decades-long relationship with the Obie-Award winning playwright, Adrienne Kennedy. Described as “one of America’s most fearless, experimental and underappreciated playwrights," Kennedy first met Gammons as his professor in a playwriting course. As their relationship grew over time, Gammons was presented with three  opportunities to honor and engage with Kennedy’s work over his directing career.  “I have always responded powerfully to how she chooses to tell her stories — she uses the full language and magic of theatre to express her outrage about racism in this country,” he said.

“I believe firmly that art is one of the places where we talk most directly about the complexity of our humanity. Sometimes those conversations are difficult and painful because they force us to confront the realities of the human condition,” Gammons said, “specifically the realities in our country around the ideas of race and identity.”

A play-within-a-play, directed by Teddy (Joe Steele, third from the left) keeps the ensemble a part of the action. Pictured left to right, Derek Johnson Jr., Kwasi Ntiamoah-Mafoh, Wilson Moroz, Han Ramroop, Joe Steele, Evelyn Compton, and Eli Crishook. Photo by Ashley Cooper for Virginia Tech.

Cast members of "Sleep Deprivation Chamber" rehearse.
(From left) Derek Johnson Jr., Kwasi Ntiamoah-Mafoh, Wilson Moroz, Han Ramroop, Joe Steele, Evelyn Compton, and Eli Crishook. Photo by Ashley Cooper for Virginia Tech.

While not shying away from the complexities of the lived experience of so many Black Americans, this production is ultimately about empowerment. There's the empowerment Suzanne finds in using her pen on behalf of her son through letters to the NAACP, the governor of Virginia, and prosecuting counsel. Teddy’s empowerment as he testifies for his innocence on the stand and wins. The empowerment the playwrights inspire in the audience to speak out against the ongoing violence against Black people. Even in the rehearsal room. “I’ve been using that term, ‘to empower,’ even within the rehearsal phase to encourage the actors to feel that they have a unique, specific and essential voice in creating what we’re making,” Gammons said.

“What I hope that audiences grasp is that theatre gives us multiple ways to communicate,” said Gammons. “That to me is what I love about this piece — although it has a specific story to tell and a point of view — it embraces the idea that there is never one truth, that there are always multiple perspectives and invites a multiplicity of responses.”

Tickets and parking

Performances of “Sleep Deprivation Chamber” are Nov. 7-10 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Studio Theatre, located on the second level of Squires Student Center, 290 College Ave. in Blacksburg.

Tickets are $15 general or $12 senior/student and may be purchased through the Moss Arts Center ticket office in person or online. Tickets will be available at the door in the Squires Student Center beginning one hour prior to the performance (cash only). Find links for online purchase.

All seating is general admission. The performance is approximately 90 minutes.

All university community members and visitors will need to display a parking permit, use the ParkMobile app, pay a fee, or pay using an hourly meter to park on the Blacksburg campus unless otherwise noted by signage. Find additional parking information online.

If you are an individual with a disability and/or desire an accommodation, please contact Susan Sanders prior to the event.

Written by Ashley Cooper, a Master of Fine Arts in theatre and arts leadership candidate

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