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Evening of One-Acts reveals strengths of student drama

Student-Written One Act Plays
MIT Dramashop.
Little Kresge.
April 30, May 1 & 2.

By Joseph E. Bondar
nce a year, Dramashop provides the MIT community with a unique experience, their Evening of One Act Plays, a collection of student-produced, student-directed, and student-written plays. Audience discussion and comments follows each performance, allowing the audience to supply invaluable feedback to the writers, directors and actors. When all this young, creative energy gathers in one place, the possibilities often become limitless. This year was no exception.

by Jonathan Amsterdam G, and directed by Craig White '93, examined the relationship between two yuppie friends in their mid-30's. Charlie (Tom Westcott '93) wakes his friend Sheila (Heather Wages '95) early in the morning of her 34th birthday to begin writing the play they have been trying to start for a year. They decide to write a love story, prompting Charlie to declare his long-hidden love for Sheila, a love she does not return.

The language of the play is very snappy, and Westcott showed particularly great energy in his flawless delivery. This played well against the neurotic portrayal of Sheila by Wages. The rapport between the pair highlighted the comfortable, yet strained, relationship. However, this relationship was isolated from any particular world, resulting in a rather trivial play. In the end, the characters failed to make any substantive change.

The second play, Justify My Love by Westcott, and directed by Gene Schuster '94, was by far the most ambitious of the evening. This play explores the relationship of three gay men. Shawn (Deep Katdare '92) comes to visit his friend Rob's (Jeffrey Haring '95) apartment and discovers that Rob's roommate is his old lover Mark (Todd Cass G). The situation remains polite, but the tension runs incredibly thick.

An entire gamut of issues arise, from gay identity and relationships to rape, love, and friendship. The most interesting part of the play occurs when Shawn confesses to an incredulous Mark that he has in fact gone straight and is there to ask Rob to be best man at his wedding. He never does this for shame that he is no longer gay. This "coming out" was made both real and heartfelt. Katdare's calm portrayal of a man externally decided but internally torn was quite extraordinary. Cass is to be commended for taking the moody, energetic, and gritty character of Mark and making him believable. Unfortunately, the play tried to tackle too many issues and never did justice to any of them. Also, the character of Rob was not fully conceived and seemed to have no personal needs.

The first play after the intermission was a piece called Bridging the Gap by Jack Miller '93, directed by Jennifer Duncan '92. The wonderful premise dealt with a suicidal man who accidentally dials a phone sex line instead of a suicide hot line. The stage is split in half between the woman's office and the man's hotel room. Julien (Daniel Zentner '92) calls Jill (Jill Soley '92) on her first day on the job and the confusion that results is extremely funny. Once the mistake is cleared up, the play settles down into a very long and rather preachy conversation on the failure of people to communicate with each other, and indeed themselves. Although the writer provided Zentner with many well-delivered one-liners, he failed to keep the plot consistent and resolve the theme. The after-play discussion revealed that many audience members were confused about the message of the play and the final outcome.

The star of Bridging the Gap was clearly the director, who added immensely to a problematic play by use of props and on-stage action. The two characters on stage, though miles apart, had at times invisible strings between them which connected their movements to drive home some of the play's subtleties. Talk of aspirin on one side of the stage translated to the appearance of suicide pills on the other. These are just a few examples of the many nice directorial touches.

The final play of the evening, Captain Omega by Paulo Pereira '93, directed by Franz Elizondo Schmelkes '94, was probably the audience's favorite. A very nerdy comic book writer, Kevin (Thomas Lawrence '95), moves in with a friend, Monica (Leelila Strogov '93). Her boyfriend Mike (Ryan Yu '93), a publishing executive, decides to buy up Kevin's character because he feels his 50's style of writing is out of date and a more real, more 90's approach is needed to be successful. The characters of Kevin's comic book fantasy world also appear in this play, led by Captain Omega (Richard Davis '94).

The play examines the need for fantasy as an essential and valuable escape from reality. Unfortunately, the writer and director failed to follow theatrical conventions. Sometimes the comic book characters appeared as on-stage alter-egos to "real" characters, sometimes the comic book world appeared in Kevin's dreams, sometimes as the reading of a "live" comic book. Some characters had dual roles in the real and fantasy word while others were in only one.

The audience commented that the plot was hard to follow because of the inconsistency. Some fine acting pulled the play through, though. Lawrence played a truly slimy nerd. Strogov switched characters between the real, disillusioned Monica to the comic book Lightning Girl in a heartbeat. Ryan Yu played both Mike and the Angster with absolute evil. The big hit was of course Davis' deep-voiced superman in yellow rain boots, his absolute belief in his comic book reality pulling the audience right along with him. Well, after all, he was the hero.

The Dramashop Evening of One Acts goes up again in November. See them then to see the true spirit of MIT at play. If you're interested in having your play produced, the deadline for scripts is in mid-September. I can't think of a more thoughtful, artistic and creative group with whom to trust your creation.