While most are familiar with the tale of the yellow brick road, this semester’s Mainstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” takes more twists and turns than just a trip out of Kansas.
Both visually and contextually, this production is unlike one you’ve seen before. Director Tommy Iafrate, assistant professor of theatre, said that a main focus of his production is homing in on the theme of “home.”
“At its heart, I think ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a story about a girl who goes on a journey and misses home,” Iafrate said. “And that’s something that I think a lot of us on a college campus can relate to because a lot of students are living away from home for their first time.”
Iafrate said that he used his own childhood memories as inspiration for this vision of home. From fond memories of his mother folding fresh, clean laundry, he chose to create a backdrop and setting in which everything looks like it is made from laundry. Of course, this includes costumes, but also extends to the props and set pieces used onstage.
The most major and obvious choice made in this production is that Iafrate has swapped genders of various leads in the show. The Cowardly Lion, Wizard, Tin Man and Scarecrow are all changed to female characters — and the Wicked Witch of the West is played by a man as a drag queen.
“To me, none of these characters’ genders are important to the plot,” said Marisa Cartusciello, who plays the Tin Man and is a senior majoring in theatre. “This story is all about the message it gives to the audience and about what each character wants.”
In addition to playing with gender, Iafrate said that he built his production around how he sees Dorothy’s experience leaving home as a parallel for LGBTQ experiences of coming out.
“I think it’s important that the family unit that Dorothy comes from is heteronormative because that’s, in many ways, I think what she is rebelling against, and why she feels like such an outsider at home,” Iafrate said.
In the 1939 film of “The Wizard of Oz,” as well as in most adaptations and renditions thereafter, the alienation and loneliness Dorothy feels from her family is important to her journey, where she meets the characters who grow with her throughout the story. Iafrate said that this story often also exists for theatre performers, who have to spend much of their careers on the road.
“I have spent a lot of my career going away from home either to work on [cruise] ships or on national tours or regional theaters that take me away from people that I already know and love, but where I am lucky enough to collaborate with other artists that become my friends, that become my loved ones,” Iafrate said. “So, this idea of developing a chosen family is something else that I think is really universal.”
Finding yourself and your own family in the theater is a sentiment echoed by Mia Leopold, a member of the ensemble in “The Wizard of Oz” and a senior majoring in cinema. For Leopold, a connection to the theater is actually what drew her to the University in the first place.
“On a personal note, when I first came to [BU] for a campus tour, I snuck into Watters Theater and decided then and there that I wanted to go to [BU],” Leopold said. “Now I’m performing onstage, in the same theater where I first connected to [the University].”
“The Wizard of Oz” debuts this Friday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m., and runs on Nov. 11, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m., as well as a matinee performance on Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online, by phone and at the box office, and are $10 for students, $16 for seniors, faculty, staff and alumni and $18 for the general public.