An Experiment with an Air Pump to open at USD

An Experiment with an Air Pump to open at USD
When The University of South Dakota Department of Theatre presents An Experiment with an Air Pump by British playwright Shelagh Stephenson, Feb. 21-25 in the Wayne S. Knutson Theatre, it brings to the stage a play that was inspired by the 1767 painting "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" by Joseph Wright.

At the heart of the painting a scientist demonstrates through scientific experimentation that life could not exist in a vacuum.

Fellow scientists and presumably family look on while the elderly gentleman pumps air out of a glass globe into which a live bird has been placed. Using the idea of scientific experimentation as a point of departure, Stephenson places the action of her play in the same English house, divided by a large gap of two hundred years (1779-1999).


She sets it on the threshold of each new century in anticipation of what the future will bring.

These junctures in time represent the dawn of the Industrial Age and the ushering in of Biotechnology, ideal moments in history for exploring the aims and ethics of science and the evolving roles of both men and women. By juxtaposing two stories which unfold like a detective story happening in two different time periods, Stephenson is able to show that while the machinery of science has evolved, human impulses have changed very little.

Actors playing roles in both centuries include Andy Heller, Armour, as Fenwick/Tom; Mandi Jung, Rapid City, as Susannah/Ellen; Ellie Satter, Yankton, as Harriet/Kate; and Brian Zealand, Ralston, NE, as Armstrong/Phil. Lindsey Straw of Ralston, NE, Thomas Crouse of Morris, MN, and Avalon Kann of McGregor, IA, play Maria, Roget, and Isabel, respectively, characters who appear in only the 18th century portion of the story.

Performances to An Experiment with an Air Pump are at 7:30 p.m. nightly except for a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens (65+), $6 for youth (k-12) and non-USD students, and $3 for USD students with a current ID. To make reservations, call the University Theatre box office at (605) 677-5400 or stop by the box office in the afternoons.

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