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Playwrights in Performance

Four new plays in 90 entertaining minutes

By Joel Rosenberg

Plays by Peggy Anderson ’99, Benjamin Self G, Thomas Cork ’00, Edward Kohler G

Directed by Alan Brody

Rehearsal Room B

Tonight and Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

There are hundreds of extracurricular activities available at MIT, and some folks choose to spend their precious free time in theater, often acting, sometimes producing, and occasionally writing. Associate Provost for the Arts Professor Alan Brody makes a point each spring to showcase the writers by employing other students to act in and produce the one-act creations that form Playwrights In Performance. This year’s collection is quite diverse, and quite entertaining.

The evening opens with The Mirror, by Peggy Anderson ’99. Two women, dressed identically yet isomerically, enter and recite two seemingly unrelated monologues. As they move to face each other, it becomes clear that Skinny and Fatty, Teresa Huang ’98 and Sarah Cohen ’00 respectively, are mirror images, and the monologues turn out to be representative of the similarities and differences between the two sides of the same coin. The scene is a well done commentary on self-realization and self-acceptance.

Seduction is the theme of The Piano Teacher, by Ben Self G, as the older mentor, Liz Stoehr G, tries to convince the nervous student, Damon Suden ’99, that she has more to teach him more than just “Rhapsody in Blue”. Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two fails to sparkle as much as Stoehr’s accessories, so that when she finally breaks down while confessing her unrequited love, the honesty she manages to achieve doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. As with many age-based scenes, it is difficult to see the autumn/spring relationship, although Suden’s innocent whistled piano mime is a nice touch, as is his caffeinated sweet tooth.

Following a brief intermission is Empty, by Thomas Cork ’00. Set in a gay club the night after the Gay Pride Parade, the main story involves Joey (Sean Austin ’99) trying to convince Andrew (Jeff Klann ’01) to land any one of the available men in the place that Andrew would like. The self-depricating Joey is really just obscuring his feelings towards his friend through this gay machismo, which closely matches straight machismo. Woven into this line are the drug-abusing drag queen Shaniqua (Theater Arts Senior Lecturer Michael Ouellette), a lonely older man (Ben Self G) who makes a pass at Joey, Giovanni the male model (Fernando Padilla ’99), and a bartender (Tech staffer and PIP Assistant Director Vladimir Zelevinsky G appearing in a revealing black sequined v-neck vest). Cork gives an interesting and important glimpse into gay life by setting the scene in a social environment, so that between the lights, the synchronized sound track, and the replica of Michelangelo’s David, the characters have the cover of the club to be a little more crazy, and eventually a little more sane, than they might have been otherwise.

The final and most compelling piece of the evening is Brilliance, by Eddie Kohler G. It starts with a bang as two executive-types, identified as David (Fernando Paiz G) and Jane (Marketa Valtenova ’00) by their “Hello my name is” tags, try to one-up each other’s intelligence by giving a brief history of their worlds at a pace that would have been fast even in New York. Over the next few scenes, we learn that these two are part of a larger crew attending “Camp Achievement,” a middle manager boot camp run by an eccentric director (Andy Zengion ’99) and her assistant Joyce (Ann-Marie White G). All of them (Ricardo Ramirez ’02, Rishard Chen ’02, Erin Lavik G, Janet Chieh ’99, and Charolyn Chen ’02) are there trying to re-gild their tarnished lives, and when ego rears its ugly head in the team of David and Jane, David soon finds himself in the incomprehensible role of inferior. The sparks between the two build to a brilliant climax that should ring true for anyone who has had to work with other bright people. Paiz and Valtenova, no novices to the MIT stage, work beautifully together, and evolve their respective characters a surprising amount given the length of the play. At a school with pass/no record freshman year, Kohler manages to get at the heart of why such tempering is necessary, and concludes a dense and satisfying 90 minutes of original works.