Weekend of Workshops: These Plays Are Lit

Up this quarter: “Dusk Before Fireworks” directed by Sophie Downes and “Selections from Dorian Gray” by Abigail Hunter.

By Natalie Pasquinelli

 Quarterly University Theatre workshops are a point of departure for hopeful directors: They provide an opportunity to explore ideas and execution without the magnitude of a mainstage (feature-length) show. Still, the restrictions of a workshop—fewer resources, smaller budget,  far less rehearsal time—present their own set of creative challenges.

This quarter’s workshops—short form theater pieces—will take place this weekend in the intimate FXK Theater, where UT will present “Dusk Before Fireworks,” directed by Sophie Downes and “ Selections from Dorian Gray” by Abigail Hunter. Both works are adaptations from literature, the former from a short story of the same name, the latter from the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Downes’s adaptations of “Dusk Before Fireworks” by Dorothy Parker tells the story of Kit and Hobie, who originally meet for a romantic evening together. As the night wears on, the rendezvous takes a tense turn as past conflicts fight their way to the foreground.

Hunter’s “Selections from Dorian Gray,” follows the first 90 pages of Oscar Wilde’s famous novel. Character-driven, this adaptation follows the feelings and influences between Dorian Gray, a beautiful man in his twenties, Henry Wotton, a gentleman with an indulgent streak, and Basil Hallward, an artist.

Hunter and Downes faced a shared obstacle in adapting prose into scripts.

Hunter had to reshape the content of Wilde’s work to only include the scope of her story. “It took me a few weeks to cut the script, and a lot of information was eliminated that is actually really necessary in the final product. It just wasn’t relevant to the story that I’m telling,” she said.

Downes, on the other hand, had little trouble adapting “Dusk Before Fireworks” for the stage. “I read a collection of Dorothy Parker's short stories two summers ago and was struck by how theatrical some of them seemed,” she said, “This story in particular is so dialogue-heavy that it was simple to turn it into a script.”

Both texts were also significantly dated, “Dusk Before Fireworks” was published in 1935, The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, but both directors saw something lasting in their stories.

Downes saw a relatability in the characters of “Dusk Before Fireworks.” “My goal with this workshop,” she said,  “is to speak to everyone who has ever felt insecure in a relationship, or like they weren't being heard. Parker's characters are archetypes and the setting is dated, but I think in this exaggerated scenario we can see our own experiences. “

For Hunter, Oscar Wilde’s story and her adaptation encourage thought about art and morality. “I hope [audience members] ask themselves about how they interact with and consume art, since art gets easier and easier to produce and to find every day,” she said. “What makes bad art, or good art? Does my audience believe in moral art or immoral art, or just good and bad art?”

Take a short break this weekend and catch these creative projects, followed by an afterglow performance by the Commedia dell’Arte ensemble.

A Weekend of Workshops runs this Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday at 2pm and 7:30 pm in the FXK Theater (third floor Reynolds Club).  Tickets are $6 online and $8 at the door.