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Dramashop stages scripts of Slage, Byrne and Heller

Dramashop staged readings; Kresge Little Theatre, March 16.

The MIT Dramashop presented an evening of staged readings of student scripts in Kresge Little Theatre on Saturday night, with the intention of giving student playwrights a chance to see a preliminary staging of their works and get an audience reaction.

Three students contributed scripts, Jay Slagle '86, Pat Byrne '85, and Wayne Heller '86. The scripts, each of one act, were staged and rehearsed over a two week period, and a discussion session followed the evening's performances.

The first play was entitled "The Hellish," by Jay Slagle. In it, an English professor tries to deal with the unexpected return of his recently divorced wife, a task made especially difficult by her insistence that she is dead and gone to Hell, and has returned to take him back with her.

Slagle's vision of Hell is that of an endless, dreary suburb, where things are so smoothly run that the greatest torture is boredom. Karen, the revenant, has returned to induce her ex-husband Henry's apparent suicide solely so she can get a better apartment in which to spend eternity.

The two go through a cat and mouse game of belief and disbelief, as Henry, in the best English professor tradition, tries to convince Karen that her Hell is ill-conceived and poorly structured, ontologically and theologically. Karen, however, is indefatigable, her attitude fueling an ambiguity that runs through the play, creating a situation that challenges the audience's own beliefs toward Heaven and Hell.

Pat Byrne's play was entitled "Denouement," a simple over-the-table dialogue between two would-be lovers at a stylish Boston caf'e. Intensely personal, part of the dramatic power stems from the fact that the action plays out a situation that many recognize as familiar. A man and a woman, old friends, both find themselves at watershed points in their personal lives. Though mutually attracted on some levels, they realize that they are not right for one another, and part "just friends."

Byrne builds Coward-like ironies in the layers of dialogue, as the phony clunkiness of the initial chitchat seems to distance the audience from the players by accentuating the fact that they are in fact actors on a stage mouthing bad dialogue.

Then it becomes evident that the characters are shadow-boxing: The characters are acting to one another, and Byrne makes this sense of alienation clear by carefully manipulating the reactions of the audience.

Wayne Heller contributed "The Throw-up," a hilarious exercise into the absurd. A simple tale that lances the pomposity of the intellectual theatre, it relates the story of a star-crossed couple in their attempts to come to grips with the origin and purpose of a revolting pool of vomit. A narrator steps in periodically to clarify the more difficult metaphysical points, and a distinguished panel of critics sits in the wings in order to lend its expertise. The play ends in panic, with the critics retching and heaving backstage and the narrator losing control of the audience itself.

Each of the plays was presented as no more than a work in progress, yet they displayed stimulating measures of cleverness and dedication.

One curious thread that ran through all of them, however, was a tendency on the part of the playwright to hedge his bets, to take advantage of the amateur nature of the works.

In "The Hellish," Henry constantly regales the descriptions of Hell told him by his possibly deceased wife as incoherent and intellectually shallow, statements that come dangerously close to self-assessment on the part of Slagle. Even though Slagle's vision of Hell through a trapped housewife's eyes is engaging, such statements release him from any strict responsibility to develop it fully.

In "Denouement," Byrne partially avoids accountability for any lack of ability on his part to write dialogue by making the relationship between his characters stiff and artificial. Heller heads the critics off at the pass by providing his own -- on stage -- critics that provide commentary more visceral than any that could be communicated in print.

In all, however, the format and program were exciting, giving the audience a chance to participate and interact with the playwrights with a view toward helping them further develop their ideas. Dramashop Director Prof. Bob Scanlon, who mediated the discussion, ended the evening by mentioning that Dramashop is always looking for scripts from any MIT community members, and announced the intentions of fully staging a student script next year.

Steve Huntley->