The second New Plays Festival came to a rousing close Saturday night, with the final performance of Professor and Alum Sherwood Kiraly’s full-length comedy “Hug It Out,” directed by senior Megan Smith. “Hug It Out” isn’t just a comedy; as the lights slowly came down at the end of the evening, sniffles could be heard throughout the crowd.
Much of the emotional weight of Kiraly’s work is thanks to his incorporation of lovely music, co-written by himself and alum Markie Jo Crismon. Kiraly also acts in this piece, clearly a very personal one, and between his acting, his music and his playwriting, he is the star of the evening. His performance quietly dominates the evening, as his completely understated but completely believable turn as a music professor named Jimmy becomes only more magnetic as the evening goes on. He exudes a subtle charisma and charm, so that even when he’s barely “singing” his way through the evening’s one full song (a song of seduction for his wife, “Anything You Say”) one can’t help but smile along with him.
This is not to diminish the considerable talents of the rest of the cast: freshman Lillie Chamberlin as Jimmy’s 24-year-old daughter, Kacky; junior McLeod Sumner as Ogilvie, a customer at Jimmy’s wife’s Dog Photography company; and none other than theatre professor Liz Carlin-Metz playing opposite Kiraly as his soon-to-be-ex-wife Cyn, finally getting a chance to show off exactly what she’s trying to get across to all of us who have taken acting classes with her. Normally on the Knox stage, if one plays a child one’s parents are probably classmates; Chamberlin faces the unenviable task of having to stand up, scream at, argue with, and share the stage with two professors Ñ and she does so wonderfully. She exudes great power on par with her teachers, as Kacky tries to navigate a Christmas break home with her parents while considering an offer of proposal from her long-time boyfriend Aidan. But as her parents fill out their divorce papers on the living room table, she is thrown into doubt about whether marriage is really what she wants.
However, it’s never Aidan we see onstage, despite how central he is to the action Ñ he is only a voice on the other end of a phone. Kiraly’s work does have flaws, and this is one of them Ñ the presence of a somewhat useless, though lovingly performed, characters (Sumner’s Ogilvie), and the absence of a character central to Kacky’s struggle (Aidan).
But “Hug It Out” is of such high quality that this flaw is forgotten as Kiraly plays us out one last time, with one last new song to close out the term, and, for many of us (Smith and yours truly included) to close out our time at Knox Ñ likely the source of many of the aforementioned sniffles. But it gives me great hope for New Plays Festival III to know that the next generation of Knox playwrights will be drawing their inspiration from the incredible work we’ve seen on display this term.