By HADIYAH CHOWDHURY
I have always loved intimate theatre spaces, especially black box theatres, so I may be a little biased when I say that having Ten-Minute Playfest in the Schwartz’s black box was a brilliant idea — but it definitely was. On Saturday night, the audience of about 100 people was buzzing with excitement over the six plays they were about to see and they were not disappointed. As we took our seats and the lights dimmed, the entire cast came out and sang a cover of Chicago’s “Cellblock Tango” to remind audience members what they should and should not do during the performance, perhaps the most effective and memorable way I have ever been told to shut my phone off during a show. And then, of course, the plays started and I was blown away.
The first play, On the Brink, directed by performing and media arts Ph.D candidate J. Michael Kinsey Ph.D ’19, was definitely my favorite. The piece was extremely dynamic and versatile in the way it dealt with the Black Lives Matter movement. Actors were constantly moving and yelling, creating a chaotic atmosphere that completely immersed the audience; it was difficult to separate the character’s fear from my own. In general, the dialogue was organic and each performer lent their own voice to the piece, resulting in a nuanced and poignant look into the intersection of race, gender and identity. In addition, though the play did seem somewhat disjointed at some points, the overall confusion and fear was augmented by the lack of structure, which I thought suited the subject matter (police brutality) quite well. I was quite affected, and the play certainly made me examine my own politics with scrutiny.
Mark DiStefano’s ’16 piece, Molte Vino, had me laughing incessantly. This piece was the perfect foil to On the Brink because it lightened the heaviness that seemed to permeate the room. The actors in this piece had perfect comedic timing and their Italian accents were on point. The piece consisted of a young man bringing his fiancée home for the first time to his Sicilian-American parents, resulting in all kinds of awkward questions and obnoxious comments. What made this piece so compelling, though, was the fact that the parents were based upon DiStefano’s own parents, who happened to be in the audience on Saturday night. Their laughter only magnified everyone else’s, resulting in an altogether spectacular performance.
The fifth piece, Parmacetty, written by Kelley Mark and directed by Nick Fessette Ph.D ’18, consisted mostly of a man and a woman being interviewed by a documentarian about sharks and a recent shark attack. The man attacked the shark while the woman defended it by giving the audience an overwhelming amount of data about how one’s chances of being killed by a shark are infinitesimally small. The interviews were quite dry, so by the time it was revealed that the man who had died in the shark attack was the woman’s boyfriend, I did not have much of a connection with the woman. While I understand that this piece was meant to be of a political nature, I feel that it could have been more effective if the format had not been so predictable and if the arguments were more interesting than simply statistics.
Overall, Ten-Minute Playfest was a success. I left feeling like I had witnessed something truly spectacular that had been put together with an incredible amount of time and passion. While I certainly enjoyed some plays more than others, I have to say that the acting was top notch, and the use of the space was innovative and very effective in creating an intimate environment for the audience without limiting the movement of the actors. Although the first piece was so chaotic and overwhelming that the rest of the pieces may have lost some of their impact in comparison, I was thoroughly pleased with the amazing work of the actors, directors and writers that worked so hard to make the show such a success.