“The Rho” brings timeless issues to Dahlberg Theater

In a new adaptation, Georgia State professor W. Keith Tims modernizes the piece “The Rho” by setting it in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Photo by Sylvester Silver III | The Signal

Georgia State students who have studied Western theater or literature are probably familiar with Aphra Behn’s 1677 play, “The Rover.” But for those who aren’t, “The Rover” is about a group of Englishmen navigating a carnival in Naples. Along the way, they are smitten with a group of Spanish women. The play depicts the harsh treatment of these women by the Englishmen, which includes attempts of sexual assault. 

Georgia State professor Dr. W. Keith Tims has modernized the piece in his adaptation “The Rho” by setting it in modern New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It features college-aged students who undergo the same trauma faced by the characters in the original play.

“We took elements from the original play, and changed them into more modern and relatable elements in an attempt to tell a story about male privielge and sexual violence and the responsibilities or lack of responsibilities that people seem to face when they come across these issues,” Tims said.

Tims first had the idea to write his own adaptation of “The Rover” when he was teaching about it in his Western theater history class. This occurred during the time of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the sexual assault accusations made against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

“What I was struck by was that whenever there are these accusations of sexual assault, it seems to me that the women in these cases get called names and are disbelieved and get their lives threatened,” Tims said. “Very often, these men go on to become some powerful figure in society and have no consequences to face. For me, writing ‘The Rho’ was about confronting that … and showing it to the audience and having the audience weigh in on what they think.”

Focusing on the controversial topic of sexual assault has weighed heavily on cast members who have been victims of sexual violence, including Katie Adams.

“It’s really been a struggle of keeping my emotions in place because the end of the show is so striking,” Adams said. “There’s this monologue that explains everything that a survivor would think, and it’s really astounding. It does bring up the past, and that can be really hard.”

From the perspective of someone who has not been affected by sexual assault, this play brings to light how these problems are still relevent in today’s society.

“I’ve come away [from the rehearsal process] recognizing, just through talking to everybody in the cast, [that] these things happen a lot more than you would think,” Jihad Brent, a cast member, said. “[This show has taught me] to be more aware of that and to just walk through life trying to do my part in terms of advocating for pushback against these things.”

Cast member John Miller believes that theater is the ideal art form in which to spread these particular themes. 

“These mediums, like theater and film and music, even though they’re seen as entertainment, they can also have an impact on people’s lives and cause them to realize things that they didn’t previously realize,” Miller said. “Theater is such a raw, personal art form; it really makes the audience look at what’s going on. Unlike film, there’s no hiding behind a screen. It really calls to attention the problems that are occurring and makes the audience open their eyes.”

“The Rho” participants agreed that they hoped audiences would come away from the show with more empathy towards sexual assault victims.

“As good as we may see each other, as progressive as we may try to be, we’re all still a product [of the culture that we live in,] and we all still have growing to do as people and as a society,” Miller said. “Sexual assault is still an issue, and we need to perk our ears up and listen and not accuse too quickly these women who are coming out with these issues, because they need to be heard.”