Edna Pontellier, the tragic heroine at the heart of Kate Chopin's groundbreaking 19th-century novel The Awakening, is spiraling out of control. She's fallen in love with a younger man and under the influence of artists. She's also taken up painting, and the more marks she makes with her brush the more she begins to shake off restrictive attitudes regarding femininity, marriage, and motherhood in the American South.
"We're looking at society in 1899," says Swaine Kaui, the director of a quasi-musical stage adaptation of Chopin's novel for Voices of the South, the adventurous independent company that was originally founded for the purpose of bringing classic works of Southern literature to the stage. "You feel the cage and you get the manners and all of that," Kaui says of a story that prefigures the work of authors like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. "What we're really watching is a woman who wants to express herself for the first time. Only she doesn't know how, and she doesn't know why.
"She has her first awakening through art and she has her second awakening through sex," Kaui says.
Voices of the South is entering into a period of transition with a new executive director and board. The Awakening, which stars founding company member Alice Berry, is part narrative theater, part straight play, and part musical. It is, at once, a nod to the company's roots and an attempt to try something new.
"The music starts very classical, then I begin to infuse it with techno," Kaui says, explaining one of the ways he's building bridges to the past and bringing the story into the 21st century. "So by the end, we've taken a universal journey. The message reads to this day."