Courtesy of Cornell University

Courtesy of Cornell University

September 29, 2018

This Year’s 10-Minute Play Festival Is Both Funny and Brutally Honest

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The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts was shut down on Monday and Tuesday of this week to deal with a mold problem. Because of this, it would be understandable if the actors of this year’s 10-Minute Play Festival were under-rehearsed, or unfamiliar with the space in which they performed, but the opposite was true. At the festival on Thursday night in the newly mold-free building, I was impressed by the range and depth of the productions. None of the plays shy away from hard topics, and I should issue a warning that the second play, Tian, gets heavy, covering sexual abuse and abortion.

The festival took place in the Black Box Theatre, a dark room in a sub-basement of the Schwartz Center. The room places all of its chairs on the same level as the performers, surrounding three out of four sides of the stage. The theme of this year’s festival was “Set: Storied by Space,” and in their focus on the space itself, almost every play explores the stage creatively.

The show started off comical with Story Bored, written by Sydney Wolfe ’20 and directed by Franklin Wang ’20. Story Bored is about a troupe of unemployed creative writing graduates who attempt (and fail) at teaching a gym full of high school students how to write a story. Story Bored is an excellent example of how well a goofy concept can work in 10-minute play. Maybe it was helped by the demographic of its audience — college students, many of whom have an interest in writing — but it had the audience cackling.

In an abrupt transition, next came Tian, written by Kristi Lim ’21 and directed by Lyra Liu ’19. Tian largely focuses on one girl, Tian (Sabrina Liu ’20) while religious phrases project onto a screen behind her and haunting masked figures loom on another screen above her. It was, admittedly, a little distracting to have to look to a color guide in the program every time a new mask appeared, but the play itself is a heart-wrenching story about an undocumented Chinese girl who is sexually abused and grapples with her multifaceted identity as a religious woman, an immigrant, an American and a mother.

The next play was Strangers, written by Ilana Wallenstein ’21 and directed by Janilya Baizak, staff. This play focuses on two pairs of friends as they discuss a flurry of topics, including bisexuality and mental illness. It was both fun and honest, and felt a lot like eavesdropping on a particularly interesting conversation on a bus or in a restaurant, although the ending felt abrupt and a bit hollow compared to the rest of the scene. Despite this, the transitions between the two pairs were clever and provided a tennis-match-like back-and-forth.

The fourth play was The Forever War, written by Gloria Oladipo ’21 and directed by Christian Nielsen ’21. It tells a story about two recently-returned soldiers, Harper (Chris Dawson, staff) and Mike (Michael Overmeer ’21) celebrating the birth of Mike’s child. It succeeds in making a point about the lack of opportunities America gives its veterans to find employment and to deal with the horrors of war, although I’m not sure it connected with the audience the same way the others did. The static staging of two characters sitting on a bench felt less dynamic than the other plays.

Fifth was my favorite play of the group, a somewhat dark comedy called A Campfire Song, written by Edy Kennedy ‘20 and directed by Elise Smith ’19. It follows a grumpy fourth-year student (Quinn Theobald ’22) as he attempts to earn PE credit by camping with a slightly unhinged wilderness expert (Hannah Tokish ’20) with a fondness for ABBA. Both actors really stole the show with their performances, leaping over set pieces, yelling song lyrics and running into the audience. I’ll never watch Mamma Mia the same way again.

Finally was The Shirt (Civility), written by Kristen Wright, a fourth-year doctoral candidate, and directed by Sam Blake, a PhD student. This ripped-from-the-headlines show follows a city councilwoman who yells at a group of Trump-supporting teenage girls. The Shirt asks its actors to interact with the audience, passing out petitions to have the fictional councilwoman, Melissa (Carley Robinson ’21), removed from office. Not wanting to inconvenience anyone, I’d picked an aisle seat in the front row, and so the militant mom Valerie (Talia Leftkowitz ’21), handed me a “MAGA”-plastered clipboard. It’s no secret that Trump is everywhere: in the books we write, in the media we consume, in the jokes we tell. And yet there was something chilling about holding MAGA merch, feeling outnumbered by the MAGA ensemble. It was still in my hands during the post-performance bows. Although the show had its comedic moments, the props drove home the feeling that it was a horror play about being trapped in a society that hates rude women more than it hates sexual assault.

It was a fitting conclusion to an evening chock full of challenging and relevant plays. If you have time, the festival has a final showing on Saturday, September 29th at 7:30pm. It’s definitely worth checking out. Tickets are $5 and the event is open to the public.

 

Olivia Bono is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ojb26@cornell.edu.