LU theatre presents premiere of ‘So You Can Look Ahead,” Nov. 4-7

A wave of immigration is sweeping into America and there is a backlash, with many resenting what they perceive as a decline in the American (white) way of life. Although this sounds like it is ripped from today’s headlines, Lamar University’s latest production, “So You Can Look Ahead,” is actually set in 1932 New York.

Written and guest directed by Edward Morgan, this is the play’s world premiere. The story revolves around Stephen (Matt Hurt) and Alice (Ginger Mouton), a young couple who are financially strapped after losing money in the 1929 stock market crash. They live downtown, where Alice works at a women’s soup kitchen. Stephen is a non-practicing lawyer who helped develop the George Washington Bridge, a symbol of modernity and a bridge to the future.

Alice has placed Annabella, the niece of Italian businessman Giovanni, with a nice family as she is part of the flood of immigrants from Europe. 

Financial hardship and other factor have strained the couple’s marriage. When Stephen accepts a well-paying job at the Museum of Natural History, rather than ease their burden, it exaggerates the cracks in the relationship. 

Stephen’s boss, Howard Osborn (Joel Grothe), has hired him to organize the International Eugenics Congress, a movement that was gaining traction worldwide in the 1920s and ’30s. Eugenicists advocate selectively mating people with desirable hereditary traits, even suggesting sterilization for undesirables. They couch their philosophy as being charitable as it will reduce the suffering of “lesser” peoples by eliminating undesirable characteristics from society.

When Annabella becomes pregnant and is committed to a hospital, Alice asks Stephen to use his legal skills to help. Stephen soon finds himself in the middle of a conflict between Alica and Howard, who does not understand why Stephen would waste his time on the “dregs of Europe,” and sees Annabella’s plight as proof of his Social Darwinistic threories.

Morgan does an excellent job of keeping the audience guessing, as Stephen vacillates between loyalties. The audience’s sympathies shift, a testament to Hurt’s ability to not tip his hand, and we see his struggle between social advancement and desperation to placate his wife. Alice’s activism is at odds with Stephen’s ambition, and financial stability is not the salve Stephen hopes it would be.

Mouton does a great job of portraying Alice’s conflicted worldview. In many ways, she is a contemporary woman in an age when such independent thought was looked down upon.

Grothe’s Howard is terrific, all self-assured smarm who wears bullying with pride, while always casting himself as a savior figure (his attitude is reminiscent of a recent political figure, but I leave that to the viewer). Howard’s unbending faith in his own convictions is unnerving, but he knows he has the power inherent in his race.

Aaron McClendon, as Giovanni, and Janely Alvarez, as Annabella, acquit themselves well, as the immigrants who prove the exception to Howard’s rule.

The staging is simple and efficient. This is a play of ideas and questions, and Morgan wisely dispenses with complex scene changes in favor of intimate conversations. Liz Freese’s sparse set perfectly matches the tone of the show.

“So You Can Look Ahead” is uncomfortable viewing, in the best possible sense. At one point, Alice says she feels a moral responsibility. Well, so does Howard. Morality is more nuanced than we want to believe, and it is in the gray areas we will define ourselves and our future.

Show times are 7:30 p.m., Nov. 4, 5 and 6, and 2 p.m., Nov. 7. General admission tickets are $15. For reservations, visit lamar.edu/lutdtix.

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