February 3, 2012

UT's Weekend of Workshops is a theatrical grab bag

Just in case the Super Bowl is not going to be the highlight of your weekend (or if you simply feel like being well-rounded), University Theater’s Weekend of Workshops has great entertainment (and even shock!) value in store for you.

For this year’s continuation of an annual event, the Weekend of Workshops cast and crew worked on four separate pieces that were either student-written, student-devised, or, in the case of the Gribsby scene, resurrected from the depths of Oscar Wilde’s editing processes. Five weeks after production began, they have reached this final showcase. After attending a run of the four-piece show and catching up with the directors, I can safely assume that you will enjoy yourself for 80 minutes, and for better reasons than the avoidance of homework. Get your tickets, head to the First Floor Theater in the Reynolds Club at 8 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday (or catch the Saturday matinee at 3 p.m.), and settle in for a great time.

The Gribsby scene from The Importance of Being Earnest, which director John Lisovsky labels as “grossly under-known and underperformed,” begins the show with Schubert in the background and tuxedoed actors on stage. This environment of upper-class pretension quickly becomes ironically humorous as the scene progresses: Viewers have the opportunity to hear what it means to be a gentleman while gazing upon behavior that is quite the contrary. For all of you future econ grads who need a guidebook on how to act after earning your investment banking bonuses, this will be an educational experience.

Graceland follows next. Inspired by the album of the same name, it allows its crew to “mix music and theater,” according to director Zev Hurwich. Although Hurwich brought the album—which he considers one of his all-time favorites—to the creative table, it is the actresses who wrote the scenes. The short pieces range from comical (a How I Met Your Mother-esque tale involving the “gumbo of love,” along with the mental processes of a first encounter at a bar) to more forlorn sketches of childhood fantasy worlds, single-motherhood, and moving on, as well as a daughter’s attempt to break free from home. The insights the actresses give into some of life’s important moments offer a poignant reminder that there are emotions at this university beyond stress and exhaustion during midterms.

Although the underlying conflict that drives This is Our [Chicago] Youth remains “intentionally unclear,” according to director Fred Schmidt-Arenales, the laughter that ensues over the actors’ interactions is obvious. The performance is improvisational: Schmidt-Arenales had his actors read the original This is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan and used improv directing to achieve a general result, but the lines themselves can change each time. Based on Monday’s run, University of Chicago–friendly comments about Ratner, the proper pronunciation of “Medici,” analysis of french fry quality, and even Chicago Bulls fan-wear are certainly not off-limits. And neither is a healthy dose of F-bombs.

Midnight Snack finishes off the show with a humorous and horrifying tale of domestic violence at its best and worst (yes, both…sense my inner conflict). All of you Fourth Meal participants know just how important late-night dining is, but not even the Pierce staff could handle the hunger pangs of the wife in this crazy couple. The process of writing this scene, which originated as a project for writer and director Myra Su’s playwriting class last year, has been both “frustrating and gratifying” for her. These contrasting feelings course throughout the play until you’re wishing for the food to get there faster almost more than the famished wife (even if you aren’t feeling particularly charitable toward her at this point…just to spare the husband). Use this as a guide of what not to do next time you’re in a fight with a significant other, although it should be obvious.

The efforts of the cast, directors, stage managers, and everyone else involved in these University Theater productions over the last five weeks were well worth it. Weekend of Workshops provides an emotional spectrum that should have something to offer to any viewer. So instead of (or before) setting up shop on the couch in front of the big screen of your dreams, spend a chunk of your valuable free time on this exceptional viewing experience.

A Weekend of Workshops, Friday 8pm, Saturday 3pm & 8pm