February 10, 2015

UT roars during weekend of theater workshops

This past weekend, campus theater–goers gathered in the Reynolds Club’s Francis X. Kinahan Theater for A Weekend of Workshops. In the first half of every autumn and winter quarter, new directors and casts test their mettle and share the results in University Theater / Theater and Performance Studies’ workshops. Each of the four directors had between 10 and 30 minutes to showcase their piece, creating a delightful medley of theater during each of the three evening shows and the Saturday matinee. In this quarter’s workshops, second-years Andrew Mao, Eric Kirkes, and Natalie Wagner directed selections from Othello, Rabbit Hole, and Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, respectively, and fourth-year Chris Deakin adapted and directed Light Touch: The Tragedy of HamLion, Lion Prince of Denmark.

Mao’s direction of I, Iago, an adaptation of Othello, came to life through highly specific staging and movement work, casting Iago (Daniel Fraad) as the puppeteer of the tragedy. Greasy and insidious, he stood out as the sole agent in the action, moving freely between the areas of the stage which had confined the other characters. This freedom, along with the eerie, almost ghastly lighting, lent Iago a deeply unsettling air. Fourth-years Mickey Desruisseaux (Othello), Caitlin Fallahay (Montagno), and Nathaniel Rossum (Cassio) brought some humanity to the stage, falling prey to Iago’s increasingly alienating machinations. Altogether, Mao offered a thought-provoking exploration of a classic villain.

In crafting beautiful selections from Angels in America, Natalie Wagner divided the stage into two homes, a couch on one side and a bed on the other, laying the perfect frame to support the work of her gifted and well-utilized cast. Brandon Callender (Joe Pitt), Emma Maltby (Harper Pitt), DC Nitz (Prior Walter), and Ruben Lesnick (Louis Ironson) gave powerful, breathtaking performances. The second act of this show—where the tensions that had been building in the previous scenes were finally unleashed in a pair of simultaneous shouting matches—stood out as particularly impressive. Here, the actors pulled out all the stops and held audience members captive at the edges of their seats.

Eric Kirkes’s selections from Rabbit Hole played well to the strengths of fourth-year Ricky Stewart (Jason) and third-year Katie Vandervalk (Becca), who both gave very authentic, grounded performances. Only some tea, a couch, and a lemon square joined the two actors on stage as they held a long conversation between a middle-aged mother and a teenager who accidentally ran over her son. This production’s greatest strength was the extremely natural timing of the beats of the show: They were comically effective when they could be and dramatically effective where they should have been.

Chris Deakin’s HamLion also premiered at this quarter’s workshops. “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” said second-year Jon Sorce, laughing hysterically and clearly having the time of his life. Overflowing with camp, GIFs, and puns, HamLion pulled its audience into a shamelessly dorky and overwhelmingly fun experience. Deakin’s adaptation blazed through the beats of Hamlet, stuffing every key moment of the classic piece of theatrical literature with as much of The Lion King as it could possibly sustain. Each actor had feline face makeup and “puppeteered” a representative stuffed animal. “Ideally, we would be doing all of Hamlet, but, you know, we only had 20 minutes,” Deakin said. The cast brought skill and contagious enthusiasm to this beautiful farce: first-years Tessa Garcia-Duarte and Si Squires-Kasten played Clawdius and HamLion, respectively, second-year Kyle Yeh brought out PumbaaCrantz, third-year Collin Lapinsky gave us Burdina (a conglomerate of Gertrude and a few servants), and fourth-year Sarah Lo gave life to Ofurlia. Judging by the hysterical cackling of the audience, the highlight of HamLion may have been hearing the vocally gifted cast chase Ofurlia offstage while singing the entire text of the “get thee to a nunnery” scene to the tune of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”

It was a blast.