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Jungle love at AASU

Original play combines philosophy with humor

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It's not every day you get a chance to see a play which deals with Existentialism, historical materialism, and German idealism, not to mention all your various and sundry garden-variety questions of free will.

Then again, it's not every day that a play is written by a philosophy professor.

Jack Simmons, a Ph.D on the faculty of Armstrong Atlantic State University — and in this case that means he's an actual Doctor of Philosophy — presents the original play A Tropical Affair this weekend at AASU's Jenkins Theatre. All performances are free and open to the public.

In A Tropical Affair, two friends seek to escape the pressures of life by journeying deep into the South American jungle, where they come face-to-face with... the pressures of life. Plus a love triangle, a raging river, tropical disease, friendship surviving a test and other fun stuff.

"All intellectual thought throughout history has said that in the face of contemporary society, individual identity is impossible. So you've got to have a trick for finding it," Simmons explains.

"Thoreau's trick was to go out into the woods. The German and French Existentialist trick was to have a crisis in which everything society presents you makes your beliefs meaningless. Our characters are doing both."

The dual protagonists in the play, Mitch and Stanley, are performed by Khan Ow and Vuk Pavlovic. The rest of the young cast is rounded out by Megan Netherland, Brittany Shired, Mary Simmons and "Jacques Rouseau," who may or not be the playwright himself.

Simmons says he decided to write the play for two reasons. First, "my profession is to write philosophy, but I don't like writing philosophy for other professional philosophers. I want my academic work to directly affect the public."

Secondly: "I've written a novel that openly confronts philosophical issues, but I don't like the business of getting novels published. I also wrote a screenplay, but there's the same kind of problem. A play is on a more human scale — it's something I can write, I can direct and I can see come to life."

Simmons points out that technically, the entire basis of Western philosophy is in play form. Sort of.

"The two most important philosophers are Plato and his student Aristotle. They both explained their philosophy through dialogues, which are essentially plays, just not intended to be performed."

As an aside, Simmons says that while none of Aristotle's dialogues have survived, his class notes — literally, his class notes — have survived.

"Curiously, the entire profession of philosophy since then has followed the format of Aristotle's class notes," Simmons says. "He would have been horrified."

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