“Is it going to be funny?” is a question asked by everyone from bright-eyed first years attending their first studio play to jaded seniors questioning whether they should spend their precious time in the plush seats resting on the thrust risers of this year’s studio setup. As their theatre-knowledgeable friend, the usual response to such a question is “No,” and then some phrases about what the show is about, and perhaps a logical argument about how they really should come and see it with you.
This season is shaping up to be quite a bit different. In fact, both of the student-directed productions put on in Studio Theatre this term have given audiences as many laughs as they have tears. So maybe some are a bit more goose bumps than chuckles, but as a whole the plays this term offer quite a bit of humor, something Knox theatre is not known to deliver in large quantities.
When it comes to the first studio production, “Flop Cop,” directed by junior Theresa Murphy, laughter was to be expected. You don’t show up to a play about a theatre police officer arresting a playwright for an offending script and assume to contemplate the meaning of modern day life. Yet between the well-placed jokes and the Knox-specific lines (the one about the TKS review tickled me pink, by the way) emerged something more. Something every aspiring writer in the audience related to far too closely: the desperation to create, to be someone to the larger world.
Sure it was over-the-top and exasperated (thus is comedy), but it also reached out on a truly sobering level. A level that left the audience laughing outwardly, but with the aftertaste of something a bit more contemplative. A job well done by Murphy, whose debut in studio brought large crowds despite being an unpaired 10 minute play, further proof of how laughter-hungry Knox audiences are.
While “Flop Cop” was marketed as a comedy and delivered the laughs we expected, “Home Free!” surprised audiences with its humor and childlike wonder. “Home Free!,” directed by junior Emily Trevor, may have reminded audiences of last Fall Term’s main stage “The Caffe Cino Project,” which is probably because the play originated at Caffe Cino in 1964. The mood of the play enveloped the audience as soon we entered. This is probably largely to do with junior Emma Lister’s set, which, in addition to being spectacularly crafted with chalkboard set pieces and a cozy feel despite the natural coldness of Studio Theatre, had audience members literally enter through a door onto the set in order to find their seats. Bringing us into the world of Lawrence, played by junior Padraig Sullivan, and Joanna Brown, played by Missy Preston ‘15, and their two imaginary children Edna and Claypone set the stage (both literally and figuratively) for a half hour of intense intimacy with the incestuous couple. We felt as though we were sitting in their apartment with them, as unable to leave it as the agoraphobic Lawrence.
With plot points like an incestuous baby, an agoraphobic character and the death of both mother and child at the conclusion of the play, I doubted the word ‘humor’ would ever be used to describe this play. So audiences did not expect the wonderfully fun tone of the production, which was much like watching children play pretend. This is a testament to both the high-energy and physically committed acting of Preston and Sullivan as well as the strong directing choices by Trevor to make the play strangely kooky instead of darkly crazy. With plays like these — half hour pieces that are less straightforward than your average theatre experience — it is often hard to appreciate the work. They’re interesting, and perhaps very important, but seldom do they leave you feeling as though you have comprehensively enjoyed the past half hour of theatre.
This was not the case with “Home Free!”. In fact, the haunting ending left me with goose bumps and the desire to rewind to the beginning of the play, when I felt like I was watching two siblings playing a very elaborate and perhaps exceedingly dark and twisted game of house. This air of childishness and make-believe added buoyancy to the production and, when all is said and done, a large atmosphere of fun.
Additionally, both “Flop Cop” and “Home Free!” began and ended in the same manner, with a pre-show opening (when an actor comes onstage before the show officially has started), and then a death. As far as pre-show openers go, they seem to be more of a comedic device, while a deadly ending falls more in the tragic category. This may explain why the pre-show opening worked better in “Flop Cop” than in “Home Free!,” though in both cases cutting the early entrance would have strengthened the play as a whole. Early entrances confuse the audience, and the quiet that lingers after the actor enters and before the show starts can often suck the energy out of both the audience and those performing. Yet in comedies the audience is expecting these sorts of shenanigans. Thus the “Flop Cop” audience quieted down, and then picked up their conversation when they realized the show had not yet officially started, while in “Home Free!” the audience remained quiet until the show began. Similarly, Joanna’s death at the end of “Home Free!” released a saddened, contemplative audience back into the world, while the death in “Flop Cop” allowed the audience to leave in giggles.
So to those who say that studio plays are never comedic, I would suggest you reexamine what comedy is. Thus far, it seems that the studio season is one of laughter and thoughtfulness, where the theatre police die in a shootout with a scarily relatable, if overly dramatic playwright, and an incestuous agoraphobic makes the audience erupt into laughter. The line between humor and tragedy has thus far been walked elegantly, resulting in two very successful productions.