October 27, 2006

UT packs four plays into creative week of theater

When the directors of the four shows in UT’s Fall Workshop Week were asked what impetus there was for combining these shows, they agreed that there was no particular reason at all. There is no common theme; each director simply chose to direct what interested them most. The result is a string of unrelated plays, each somewhere around twenty to forty minutes in length, and a uniquely engaging theater experience.

Each of the four plays stands entirely on its own. After the actors from each performance take their bows, the stage goes dark, and there is some brief scuffling to arrange the generally simple sets. When the lights go up there is an entirely new set of actors, a new plot, and a completely different tone. The acting never loses energy, the plot never gets stale, and even the most lethargic audience member is kept in rapt attentiveness.

The plays start on a note of farcical intrigue with the play DROP by Bryan K. Vaughan. The play involves a mailman who is fanatically loyal to the postal service being forced into a confession during an FBI interrogation.

“My show is about big picture versus little picture,” said director Rachel Landau. “There are some things that seem important but aren’t important to others, and there are some hugely important things that we may not even realize.” DROP should be an eye-opener for anyone who never considered the possibility that postal work could be a morally ambiguous profession.

Strindberg: One on One, directed by Hannah Kushnick, takes the show in a much more serious direction. A combination of plays within a combination of plays, “One on One” is an exploration of two short works by August Strindberg, “Pariah” and “The Stronger.” Each of the plays involves only two main characters, and each is fraught with tense dialogue and complicated psychology.

“I put these two shows together because they are two variations on the same theme,” said Kushnick. “Both are about concealing and revealing and how that affects a one-on-one relationship.”

The plays are both centered on a conversation that takes place over an ordinary table. One is at home, and one in a cafe. Each begins with characters expressing themselves in a rather civil tone, with no immediate appearance that anything is amiss. The audience then gets to watch as that civil and proper tone rapidly disintegrates, until the characters seem about to reach the point of explosion, the equivalent of a psychological train wreck.

The trend of unsettling conversations continues after intermission with Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.

“I chose The Zoo Story because I had the format of the workshop in mind,” said director Stephen Kim. “There aren’t many technical elements, so it’s a great play for focusing on directors and actors working together.”

Jerry, a self-proclaimed “permanent transient,” approaches Peter, a well-dressed businessman reading a book on a park bench on Fifth Avenue in New York, and says “I’ve been to the zoo.” Thus begins the eloquent and depraved account of Jerry’s views on love, God, and human interaction, to the increasing discomfort of Peter, who only wanted to read his book in peace.

Brian Mayer’s portrayal of the simultaneously psychotic and brilliant Jerry is worth seeing in itself. Alternatively swaying, crooning, yelling, and snarling, he brilliantly captures a character that both disturbs and enthralls.

The Zoo Story evokes deep, sober thoughts on the nature of humanity, but it is not the most invigorating way to end a program. That privilege belongs to another piece—The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone.

Adapted by director Drew Dir from the short story by Ray Bradbury, The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone is an unbelievably innovative and emphatic piece of theater. Three actors portraying “the critical community” interact with the story of a young critic investigating the whereabouts of great (and possibly dead) writer Dudley Stone, at various times playing narrators, characters, commentators, and pieces of the set.

“The show is an experiment in putting on a show that we, the cast, would like to go see,” said Dir.

It is an experiment in other ways, too, and a successful one. The show begins with the three faces of the critical community clustered around a naked lightbulb, shouting the words “dead!” and “alive!” at each other. It uses the theatrical form in very self-conscious and creative ways, with an aggressive use of the fourth wall and imaginative interactions of characters in scenes that blend memory, subjectivity, and reality. Overall, it is an incredibly fun and energetic note to end on.

The Fall Workshops, known on posters around campus as 4, 5, 6 (4 shows, 5th week, 6 dollars), will be playing on the Third Floor Theater in the Reynolds Club through Saturday, October 28. The shows are going to be fun, engaging, and individually short. In the words of Drew Dir, this is a great opportunity, even for “people who aren’t really into theater to be like, ‘Hell yeah, theater.’”