Mosaic / Reviews / April 13, 2016

New playwrights fill black box with laughs

Senior Michelle Secunda starts us off with her romantic comedy, “Speed Dating,” about, yes, a bar full of speed-daters (the magnetic senior Lara Brewner is a highlight: grounded, yet hilarious). The play is effortlessly funny, and has a wonderful rhythm and structure Ñ quick, overlapping snippets of date conversation punctuated by monologues to the bartender (senior Micah Snow-Cobb) Ñ but occasionally the pacing needed to pick up to keep this audience member’s focus. I can imagine a show like this facing criticism for being too romanticized, too silly Ñ but our bartender has a response to that near the end of the piece, when a speed-dater calls this whole affair “silly.” “Wanting love is not silly,” the character responds. “How is love supposed to find us if we don’t take it seriously?” In this love story to love stories, Secunda tells us that sweet, romantic stories are not silly. They are some of the most serious, important stories we tell.

Following “Speed Dating,” we leave all pretenses of realism behind to journey to sophomore Aidan Murphy‘s vision of Africa in “Titans of the Savannah.” Juniors Trevor Marshall and Olivia Thiel are Ñ here’s a sentence you don’t hear very often Ñ perfectly cast as two manly bull giraffes fighting over an Acacia Tree. In a wonderfully inspired move, Murphy has personified a scene from a nature documentary (with inevitable British narration by sophomore Hanna Levine), giving Marshall and Thiel comedic gold to mine as they bicker, compare neck sizes, and even have a dance battle in their pursuit of those juicy leaves. Their conflict is further complicated by the arrival of an attractive female giraffe (freshman Jennie Jeoung). It’s too bad she’s of a different subspecies and, in another inspired move by Murphy, only speaks French. Freshman David Petrak‘s direction is some of the strongest we’ve seen yet in the festival, ingeniously finding ways for Marshall and Thiel to execute hilarious physical comedy (highlighted by what can only be described as “slow-motion necking”) while being firmly rooted in their chairs.

The evening comes to a close with alum Michael Smith‘s “Spider Play.” Junior Jordan Hurst is a spider queen waiting for a very important package from a “real serious man” (wonderfully droll sophomore Willa Coufal). But is she a spider queen, or simply a girl at play Ñ or something else entirely? It’s an open-ended question, and the central question of the play, but one I never found interesting enough to bother to answer. After the comic heights of “Speed Dating” and “Titans,” “Spider Play” is a bit of a let-down; it simply doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and awkwardly ends abruptly on a laugh line that gathers no laughs. Still, it’s a fine play, with fun imagery, good acting, and some solid comedy; it just doesn’t have much of anything unique to do or say. Perhaps some culling of the dead space and a focus on what does work could inspire a great new play.

Even now, at what is likely a gestational phase, and on a stage so bare and static, these three new comedies still come shiningly to life. It is simply words and actors: Theatre at its simplest, but also its purest.

Holden Meier

Tags:  black box new plays festival Studio Theatre theatre

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