Week four of the New Plays Festival started off with alum Courtney Meaker’s ‘08 one-act “After It Ends,” directed by sophomore Zak Metalsky. We focus on two characters hiding somewhere, from something, as someone gets closer and closer to their hiding place.
Though “somethings” and mysteries like this can often work wonders in a play, the audience needs something concrete to grab onto so they are invested in the uncertainty. “After” does not provide that; instead it is fatally generic.
Junior Jordan Hurst and freshman Shannon Mindlin turn in great, high-energy performances, but their considerable talents cannot save their characters from one-dimensionality. And without characters to be interested in, there is no way we can become curious about the mysteries of their situation and their world.
Meaker’s ending is powerful, sending chills down your spine and giving you goosebumps, but it is purely from shock; if the tension had built better Ñ or at all Ñ and we had been more invested in the characters, this fine ending could have been something wonderful. And maybe it still will be: The play is well built, has fine moments of great potential, and a clearly talented playwright pulling the strings.
This festival is not necessarily one of polish and completion, but one of potential.
Well-built but dull is followed by messy but fascinating in “Red Wolf,” by alum Madison Mondeaux ‘15, a rare piece of theatrical horror that works (mostly) as horror. It’s a genre not known for working well on-stage, but Mondeaux and her director, junior Theresa Murphy, gave it their best.
Kristen (junior Emma Van Steenwyk) stumbles into a rural inn one dark, stormy night in 1992, only to find it haunted by a terrifying figure called the Red Wolf (junior Ian Tully) in pursuit of 17 year-old story-collector Jamie (sophomore Jayel Gant). This is a day before cell phones and the internet, so what ensues is an isolated, good old-fashioned horror yarn.
It is not a unique horror story by any means Ñ clichs and contrivance abound Ñ but it works. It is a callback to the pre-Hollywood horror story, the kind we told around campfires, under covers, in tents Ñ messy, weird, cobbled-together and a little self-aware. “How do you beat him?” Kristen asks Jamie of the Red Wolf, “These things always have a catch.” “He’s a story,” responds Jamie, “He’s just some nightmare come to life and knocking on our door. He’s not going wait for an invitation, he doesn’t have rules.”
“Red Wolf” doesn’t follow rules, either Ñ more like a nightmare than a nicely constructed thriller, its structure occasionally doesn’t make sense, things go unexplained, and it careens towards a conclusion that cannot be happy or cathartic.
It doesn’t leave you satisfied, like Hollywood horror; it leaves you, like Jamie’s favorite stories, “unsure and uneasy.”