University of Rochester

International Theatre Program Presents 'Curse of the Starving Class'

February 19, 2009

Prescient Play of Crumbling Mortgages, Dissolution of the American Dream

"It's more than losing the house—it's losing the country," says the character of Wesley in Sam Shepard's play Curse of the Starving Class, to be presented by the International Theatre Program in Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester's River Campus. The production opens on February 26 and runs for eight performances through March 7, including one matinee.

First produced at New York City's The Public Theater in 1978, Shepard's Obie Award-winning play focuses on the Tate family as it clings to the last vestiges of the American Dream despite overwhelming cultural materialism. When alcoholic father Weston and discontented mother Ella each try to sell the family farm, the bottom-line cost is more than their imagined benefits. The opening and closing of a refrigerator door seems the only constant in the Tate family household.

Set in the American West, the story of the deteriorating Tate family is given a new relevance in today's economic climate. "It foreshadows the subprime mortgage crisis by having a speculative and fraudulent land deal made by greedy developers and homeowners as it central event, which strikes me as prescient and timely to say the least," says Nigel Maister, artistic director of the International Theatre Program.

The cast includes John Amir-Fazli as Weston Tate, a character based on Shepard's own alcoholic father, who often brags of his grand plans, while in reality he is one step away from foreclosure. Patricia Morse plays Ella, who is determined to hold her family together, though she often dreams of running away and isn't above sleeping with corrupt land developer Taylor, played by Martin Cozens, if it helps keep the farm in her family's hands. Their son Wesley, played by Andrew Polec, has the soul of a poet and dreams of a better life, while his sister Emma, played by Mel Balzano, has inherited her mother's strength, but also her mother's burden in holding the Tates together.

With visiting director Moritz von Stuelpnagel at the helm, the production continues the International Theatre Program's tradition of creating visceral productions of classic texts while pushing theatrical boundaries for contemporary audiences.

Von Steulpnagel comes to Rochester from his home in New York City, where he teaches Acting Shakespeare at One-on-One Productions. In addition to his numerous directing credits in the city as well as regionally, he is a member of Ars Nova's community of artists and a frequent collaborator with Youngblood, the playwrights collective at Ensemble Studio.

Set designer Timothy R. Mackabee was trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and Yale School of Drama. Credits include work in film and television, as well as on- and off-Broadway. A graduate of Brown University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Melissa Schlachtmeyer has designed costumes for productions at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Berkshire Opera, among others. Lighting design is by Charles Foster, who is entering his seventh year as a designer with Lightswitch. Sound design is by Jill B.C. DuBoff, a Drama Desk award nominee and winner of the Ruth Morley Design Award.

Curse of the Starving Class will run Feb. 26 through Feb. 28 and March 4 through March 7 at 8 p.m., with a matinee on March 1 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $6 (UR students), $8 (for UR faculty, staff, alumni, and for seniors), and $10 (general public) and may be reserved online at or purchased at the door one hour prior to the performance. Todd Theatre is located in the Todd Union building on the River Campus.