“Why revisit the past?” asks theatre director Ed Herendeen.

The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt” seeks to answer that question. Commissioned for the 2015 Shaw Festival in Canada, the play comes to Virginia Tech as part of the School of Performing Arts’ Mainstage Theatre 2016–2017 season. Written by Michel Marc Bouchard and translated by Linda Gaboriau, “The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt” opens on Nov. 7 for 10 performances running through Nov. 17 in Squires Studio Theatre.

The play portrays the clash of business, religion, and theatre in 1900s Canada when world-famous and outspoken actress Sarah Bernhardt arrives in Quebec. NOW Toronto calls the play, which confronts such issues as child labor, censorship, and  hypocrisy in the Catholic Church, “a fascinating, moving, ambitious piece of theatre.”

Cast member Miles Gheesling, a senior theatre major from Alexandria, Virginia, thinks that students will identify with the themes presented by the play.

“Sarah Bernhardt asked, ‘What is life without art?’ and it’s true,” said Gheesling. “We study and eat and sleep but we don’t question; we don’t change. This play is about questioning the world around you and even though it’s through the lens of 1900s Quebec, it still applies to 2016 Blacksburg.”

The School of Performing Arts welcomes Herendeen as guest director. Herendeen — founder and producing director of the Contemporary American Theatre Festival at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia — explained the themes the play presents.

“Bouchard sets his new play in 1905,” Herendeen said. “It is a contemporary play set in a specific historical period. It is a compelling story about hypocrisy, exploitation, and abuse of power. Bouchard’s play questions established conventions, morals, and conservative religious beliefs. It is also a powerful attack on a greedy capitalistic business culture and the continued dominance over the poor working class.”

As Sarah Bernhardt once said, “Legend remains victorious in spite of history.” Perhaps the most challenging of Herendeen’s questions to audience members is, “Why talk about the exploitation and abuse of the working class?” Now, more than ever, the relevance of this question resonates.    

Performances of “The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt” are:

  • Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 9–11 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 14–17 at 7:30 p.m.

All performances are in Squires Studio Theatre, located in the Squires Student Center at 290 College Ave. on the Virginia Tech campus.

Tickets and parking

Tickets are $12 general and $10 for seniors and students and may be purchased online. Tickets may also be purchased at the Squires Centers and Activities Ticket Office on the first floor of Squires Student Center or by calling 540-231-5615. Tickets will be available at the Squires ticket office beginning one hour prior to the performance.

Free parking is available on weekends and after 5 p.m. weekdays in the Squires Lot, located at the corner of College Avenue and Otey Streets, in the Architecture Annex Lot on Otey Street, and the Perry Street/Prices Fork lots. Find more parking information online or call 540-231-3200. Alternative parking is available in the Kent Squires parking garage and the Farmers Market metered parking lot, both located on Draper Road.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please email Susan Sanders at susansan@vt.edu or call 540-231-5200 during regular business hours at least ten days prior to the event.

The 2016–2017 School of Performing Arts Mainstage Theatre series will present “Mr. Marmalade” by Noah Haidle Feb. 21–Mar. 2 and Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet Apr. 18–27. Tickets for all performances are now on sale.

Written by Gabrielle Piazza, of Vassar, Michigan, and Caroline Davis, of Roanoke, Virginia, graduate students studying arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts.

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