February 7, 2003

New campus play a Gift

The American premier of British playwright Tom Lister's play The Gift will be staged this weekend in the First Floor Theater. A significantly stylish hipster crowd will definitely enjoy this mélange of pop culture references, slapstick comedy, and alcohol-soaked bantering.

"What I liked most about this play was the sense of paranoia that everyone has, and the extent to which they do or do not give in to that paranoia," said director Jared Ranere, a fourth-year in the College.

Ranere met the playwright Tom Lister while studying abroad in Bologna. While assistant directing a show that Lister was directing, he got the idea to stage the play at Chicago. He was attracted to the idea of staging the work outside its European context. Ranere subsequently changed all the British idiomatic expressions to suit an American audience. The play had been performed at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. and also at the Fringe Festival, an exposition of modern playwrights.

The play concerns the hysteric neuroses of Ben (played by Craig Fitzgerald), which drive all those around him, including his girlfriend Claire (Leah Myette) and his co-worker John (Adam Bronson), to the brink of insanity. Ben complains of his girlfriend's occupational relocation to Washington D.C., without realizing that he might himself be the problem.

Mainly, it deals with Ben's inconsequential daily life as a post-graduate drifter who suffers recurrent insomnia due to his dreams of his girlfriend having lesbian sex with her roommate Dorthy (Emily Boch). Ben hates the music of Frank Sinatra (ubiquitous during the production), and complains endlessly of a conflicted relationship with his mother, a high school gym teacher.

While sorting mail at his job, Ben rants about his numerous psychological hang-ups, until his co-worker John devises the scheme of all schemes to win Ben's girlfriend back: send himself to Claire through the mail in a giant package. Needless to say, the operation becomes more and more complicated as it goes along and is highlighted by the mishandling of bungling postmen (Oscar Avila and Daniel Yanez).

The play keeps the audience guessing what the real motivations of the characters are. John tells Ben that the scheme will be "the perfect gift" to Claire, and a "refreshing and audacious gesture." Says John, "10,000 words would be nothing to yourself in person." However, his insistence belies his betrayal: that he is trying to be rid of Ben for good. As John puts it, "One man's pile of shit is another man's chocolate cake."

About midway through the play, one begins to figure that things are not going to work out so well for old Ben. His girlfriend is a chronic alcoholic, probably to numb her memory of Ben. "Ben's always been on the edge of schizophrenia," Claire says to her happy-go-lucky roommate Dorothy. Not exactly a match made in heaven.

The show offers a few laughs, many more grimaces, and good solid entertainment. The $5 charge is a pittance for black-box theatre, so put it on your list of things to do this weekend.