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Caught in the act
On Sunday March 13, 2005, Scott Cummings, a Boston College theater professor, watched a televised press conference given by Ashley Smith, 26, of Atlanta. For seven hours the previous day, the young widow had been held hostage in her apartment by an armed fugitive who had killed four people while escaping from an Atlanta courthouse, where he was being tried for rape. As flashbulbs flared, Smith described her night of captivity, during which she calmly read aloud to her captor from the Bible, cooked him pancakes, and shared photos of her family. It was her faith and respect, apparently, that moved the man to let her go. By Sunday evening, Smith had hired a lawyer, in anticipation of book and movie contracts.
For Cummings, a director and the author of seven plays, the press conference was “one of the most astonishing performances” he had ever seen. Inspired, he began writing scenes and vignettes for a work of “collage” theater that would probe, in his words, “crime as entertainment, privacy versus celebrity, the presence of God in everyday life, and the possibility of starting life over.”
Performed on the University’s Bonn Studio stage February 20–24 by an all-student cast, Ashley’s Purpose explores Smith’s story “almost the way a cubist painting” might, says Cummings, from multiple angles—including imagined conversations, verbatim interviews, dance, and traditional spirituals (sung by Boston College’s Voices of Imani). More so than for most plays, says Cummings, the script took shape in rehearsal, with students collaborating on assembling its various elements and Cummings directing. BCM senior photographer Lee Pellegrini was there to capture the process.
Dan Soyer is the acting managing editor of Boston College’s Front Row and @BC.