October 5, 2014

10-Minute Playfest: Better in a Black Box

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Before attending 10-Minute Playfest at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts on Saturday night, I had never been to a black box theater. Black box theaters are minimalistic and focus all the audience’s attention on the performers instead of elaborate sets or lighting, making it the perfect venue for this event. There were six short plays in total, coordinated by Nick Fesette grad and Aoise Stratford grad and stage managed by Chandler Waggoner ’15, ranging from parodies to experimental theater and just about everything in between.

The first play, a parody of Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot titled Waiting for Waiting for Godot, was a perfect start to the performances. The premise is simple: Two friends wait in an impossibly long line to get tickets to see Waiting for Godot, despite the fact that neither of them knows what the play is actually about. This short play, written by Seth Soulstein, grad and directed by Andy Fiorenti ’16,  hit on the fact that while modern-day audiences have extremely short attention spans, they are willing to put absurd amounts of effort into things that may make them seem more intellectual or cultured. The idea of waiting so long for something so intangible is something of an absurdity, tying in perfectly with Beckett’s original absurdist play.

Jessica Evans ’15’s Stubborn Men and the Daughters Who Raise Them, directed by Jayme Kilburn, grad, was touching and funny — a daughter who wants to travel the world with her boyfriend, finds out that her father is suffering from prostate cancer and, at the last minute, cancels her plans in order to care for him. There was nothing very special or unique about the father-daughter relationship: A daughter wants to spend time with her boyfriend while her father disapproves; a father’s ex-wife remarries while he looks on with jealousy. How many times have we seen such a predictable relationship between a father and daughter? While the sentiment was sweet, a little originality would have gone a long way.

The Championship Match, written by Julia Moser ’15, Sun staff writer, and directed by Brian Murphy ’16, was my definite favorite. The play features a woman named Ellie who has been dumped, but her coach is the real star of the play. The coach is an invisible alter-ego who gives the protagonist the self-confidence and strength to face her ex-boyfriend and tell him how she really feels about their relationship. While the coach draws a diagram on a blackboard indicating how exactly Ellie should handle her awkward situation, the audience laughs at Ellie’s total incompetency. At one point, she claims she is seeing someone new, who happens to be her cat, but since her ex does not know this, hilarity ensues with the coach wringing his hands in frustration and Ellie meekly wincing at her own awkwardness. This play is not only hilarious and clever; it also imbues its female protagonist with the self-confidence she needs to deal with her jerk of an ex.

The fourth play, Herstory, written by Addy Davidoff ’15 and directed by Maayan Wayn grad, was by far the most experimental. I am not exactly sure what the events of the play were, but I do not think that that was as important as the tone and style of the piece. Featuring a cast of all women, the raw emotions and eerie ambience certainly left an impression on me. This play was powerful especially because it was done in a black box theater; all of the emphasis was put on the actresses and very little was placed on props or costumes. The piece dealt with the issues of violation of privacy and recovery, and the most haunting moment of the piece occurred when one of the characters looked each audience member in the eyes and asked, “Did it really happen?”

An Ear for an Ear, written by Scott Chiusano ’15, Sun Sports Editor, and directed by Erin Stoneking,grad, involved a clown and questions of legitimacy and abandonment. I suppose it sounds quite strange, but it was actually the most realistic of the plays. Both actors in this play executed their roles perfectly, expressing both the need to be involved in a child’s life and the need for closure. I found myself wishing that there had been more time for the actors to go deeper into their characters’ pasts.

Finally, Turtle Beach, written by Aoise Stratford, grad, and directed by Sarah Byrne ’15, Sun Columnist, was by far the most adorable. Simply put: Two female turtles must find their ways onto a beach in order to lay their eggs; one of the turtles is very experienced while the other has never ventured out of the ocean before. The ensuing dialogue was not only hilarious, but also quite existential. The younger turtle worries about leaving her babies to be eaten or swept away, while all she wants to do is enjoy the sight of the moon, and the older turtle just wants to lay her eggs and leave the beach. A simple, yet quirky concept was executed exceptionally well.

In all, 10-Minute Playfest was an absolute joy to watch and left me with a lot of questions as well as a lot of new ideas about performance. The fact that everything was written, directed and acted by students made the experience all the more exciting. And if you ever have a chance to watch a black box theater performance, take it, because you never know how organic and unique the performances might be.