CentreTerm: Stacey Peebles brings Cormac McCarthy to the classroom and the stage

Posted by Centre News in Campus, CentreTerm, Experts, News 02 Jan 2014

peebles_portrait2CentreTerm is a time for both faculty and students to explore their passions, and Assistant Professor of English Stacey Peebles is doing just that. Her latest course will bring famous American author Cormac McCarthy’s work not only to the classroom but also to the stage.

“The class will sample different types of work by McCarthy,” Peebles explains. “We’ll look at his longer novels, some shorter novels and adapted films, like No Country for Old Men, as well as one of his plays, The Sunset Limited.”

Peebles has been studying and appreciating Cormac McCarthy since her undergraduate days, when she first read All the Pretty Horses.

“I was completely enraptured by it,” she says. “I ended up writing an undergraduate and Master’s thesis on his work, and he made it into part of my dissertation as well.”

Peebles’ involvement with McCarthy has only grown—she is currently the editor of The Cormac McCarthy Journal, the primary publication for McCarthy scholarship.

“I really like it because it puts me at the center of the critical conversations about his work,” she says. “Even submissions that don’t make it into the publication are interesting to read to see what people are thinking about—from established professors and graduate students to undergraduates and non-academics.”

McCarthy is probably most famous for his novels, but his plays are equally powerful and provocative, particularly The Sunset Limited, which Peebles has arranged to have performed on campus as part of her CentreTerm course.

This play differs from most campus plays, however, in that its cast will be professional, outside actors rather than students.

The Sunset Limited is a two-person play, centering on two older men,” Peebles explains. “They are two incredibly demanding roles with a huge amount of lines, and for those reasons, I didn’t think it could work as a student-acted production—I wouldn’t want to burden students with that kind of commitment.”

Luckily for Peebles, the right actors were soon lined up, one of them, Peter Josyph, being an avid Cormac McCarthy scholar to boot.

“There will be at least a few McCarthy critics traveling in from other states in order to see him perform in this play,” Peebles says.

The play involves one man, Black, who has just saved another man, White, from committing suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. The two men engage in a spirited discussion of whether or not Black should have saved White.

For Peebles, the production is a perfect example of McCarthy’s gift for combining realistic, relatable characters with profound questions of existence.

“It’s a terrific play—it’s funny, it’s dark and it raises these questions that everyone thinks about at one point or another, putting them right in front of you in a very engaging way,” she says.

Peebles is also excited about the possibilities this course and performance offer to the drama department on campus, which has been instrumental in getting the production up and running.

“We have such a strong drama department here,” she says. “Patrick Kagan-Moore will be directing, and the entire crew will be student-run. It gives the students a chance to work with professional actors, which is different from what they get during student productions. They’ve been very enthusiastic from the beginning.”

Equally exciting is the unique opportunity the class gives her students.

“I’m looking forward to having my students read the play and think about what they think is going on,” Peebles says, “then go to a rehearsal to watch these actors figure out what they think is going on, and then see the final production and discuss what they think about it. It’s a full ride, from the beginning all the way through to the final performance.”

The Sunset Limited will be performed at Centre’s Weisiger Theatre, January 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. The play is free to all members of the campus community; tickets are available to the general public for $10 per person and $5 per person for seniors and non-Centre students.

Learn more about CentreTerm.

By Mariel Smith

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