Playwrights in Performance:Student plays explore chaos and orderBy Yaron Koren
The three plays presented in last weekend's Playwrights in Performance festival covered a range of settings and styles. Yet, whether by design or by coincidence, all three explored similar themes: the struggle between chaos and order, and the inevitable change that the passage of time brings.
The first play on the bill, home, by Katherine Varn '98, laid this theme out the most transparently: George and Maureen, a 70-ish couple (Fernando Paiz '98 and Ann-Marie White G), caught in that vaguely-defined but terrifying period between middle age and seniority, struggle valiantly to maintain a semblance of a normal life after weakened legs force George into a nursing home. Maureen offers her support, but is quick to dispel George's delusions that the future will be no different. The title provides the tragic irony at the heart of the play: although George's new residence is called a home, it is of course anything but. Paiz was endearing as the aging, self-deluded man, an older Willy Loman.
Next up was Heels Over Head, by Vladimir Zelevinsky G, which was structurally the most ambitious of the plays. It told of a love affair in three scenes, going in chronologically reverse order. As Alex (Brett Taylor G), a filmmaker, explains it, love in real life occurs in the exact opposite direction of how it should: the boredom and desperation should come first, followed only later by the intense romantic spark. Thus we first see Ellen (Lin-Ann Ching '98) leaving Alex, fighting back tears, then a period of relative domestic tranquility, and finally their ecstatic first kiss. This structure provides the framework for varied musings on the conflict between idealism and cynicism; the battle between art, which is always fresh and timeless, and real life, which is governed by an irrefutable slide into entropy, both physical and emotional. Despite the intriguing subject matter, Heels Over Head was somewhat marred by heavy-handedness and preciousness in getting its point across, as well as a (necessarily) schematic structure. Nevertheless, the cast brought believability to the script; Ching was especially solid through the spectrum of emotional changes that the play required.
The most complex, and most vital, of the plays was the third one, Brotherhood, by Joel Rosenberg '99. The play took a rather obvious comic target, irresponsible frat brothers, and became something more along the way: a serious examination of the struggle to reach personal maturity in a setting, a college fraternity, that frequently rewards only the most immature. Scout (Matt Norwood '99) is somewhat of a leader in the house, but he's profoundly insensitive to his girlfriend, Jackie (Jacqueline Kirtley G) without even realizing it. Token (Albert Fischer G) is a nice guy who speaks about the ideals of fraternity life even while he finds himself becoming disillusioned by it. Crack (Ira Gerhardt '99), a senior, is the biggest jerk by far, a drunken, infantile fool who enjoys hazing pledges and insulting women. In any other setting, he would be recognized immediately for the loser he is. Here he is in his element, and he gets respect. At some point the mindless bantering devolves into an argument, and when one of the fraternity pledges (Thomas Cork '00) enters the scene, it become nothing less than a struggle for his soul: Crack wants the pledge to drink himself into a stupor, and the other two want him to learn to think for himself. The play kept from devolving into tired Lord of the Flies territory by virtue of the sharp, often hilarious dialogue, and the efforts of the strong cast, who didn't hit a false note between them. Brotherhood was deliberately ambiguous about how much any of these people, even the seemingly responsible ones, can be trusted to do the right thing. It asked many more questions than it could answer, and this was as it should be.