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Dramashop One Acts

Students Deliver Exquisitely from Start to Finish

By Dan Katz

Staff Writer

Normally when viewing student productions, one looks at the acting and technical aspects as the primary challenges, since the directors and the writers are professionals and must know what they’re doing. This makes Dramashop’s annual student-directed, student-written one-acts a more challenging night of theater to watch; one never knows whether they’re supposed to be studying the actors (many of which are often performing for the first time), assessing the direction, or observing the plays themselves. Inevitably, the best strategy is to appreciate that the entire production is a team effort from students working without (much of) a net, and that the best people to root for are the whole team.

The Reception

Directed by Edmund Golaski G

Written by Erin Lavik G

Starring Andii Davis ’01, Jen DiMase ’01, Max Goldman ’04, Ryan Kershner G, Barika Poole ’01, Abby Spinak ’01, Elliot Vasquez ’04

The cast of graduate student Erin Lavik’s The Reception, directed by Edmund Golaski G, opened the evening before their show even began, as Andii Davis ’01 and Max Goldman ’04 walked onstage and assumed their characters of jaded wedding guest and waiter about ten minutes before the play actually began. As the other guests arrived at the “singles table” one by one, it became clear that the play’s major conflict was the characters’ differing attitudes toward the wedding: Davis’s active resentment, Barika Poole ’01’s unyielding enthusiasm, the casual defiance of Jen DiMase ’01, and the thoughtful indifference of Abby Spinak ’01. Half of the play was an introduction to the foursome, while the other half introduced a conflict they had to work together to resolve: the abrupt death of “ladies’ man” Jack, played briefly but competently by Elliot Vasquez ’04.

The play itself was a lot of fun, including well-written and delivered dialogue and a nicely realized physical comedy scene, but there was a minor dissonance between actors trying to play up the exaggerated farce elements of the script, and others who wanted to make their characters more three-dimensional. It seems to me that either approach would have been successful (I think I would have slightly preferred the realism), but the lack of a decision to go either way made the performance less smooth. DiMase and Vasquez, two of the most grounded actors, did an excellent job making their characters the most likeable people on the stage, heightening the audience’s approval when they end up together at the play’s conclusion.

Praise must also go to Ryan Kershner G; while his role as the wedding DJ was an offstage part, it proved that every second that Kershner doesn’t spend on the radio is a waste of a golden voice.

A Head for Ganesh

Directed by Adam Glassman ’02

Written by Anand Sarwate ’01

Starring Usman Akeju ’04, Daphne Lin ’04, Dan Liston ’04, Aditya Prabhakar G

The evening’s second play, A Head For Ganesh by Anand Sarwate ’01, immediately struck the audience with a major contrast to the realistic appearance of The Reception. The first scene was played at a dinner table set in front of a background of blue light, with the setting of a kitchen suggested only by a small flat with a colorful depiction of a refrigerator. Director Adam Glassman ’02 says his hope was to evoke comparisons to a sitcom or cartoon. That precise image may not have been communicated, but the design (including commercial voice-overs that helped to mask the scene changes) did establish a nice balance of fantasy and everyday existence, which was very appropriate to the script.

Sarwate’s play juxtaposed the Hindu legend of Shiva and Ganesh with the pressures of a young student to live up to his parents’ high expectations ... resulting in a story of familiar teen angst in which the teen happens to be decapitated and given the head of an elephant. The dynamic between the rebellious Ganesh (Aditya Prabhakar G), the concerned but misguided mother (Daphne Lin ’04) and the stern unyielding father (Usman Akeju ’04) was very well established, although the audience may be more likely to remember Dan Liston ’04. Liston’s performance as the Swami was larger than life, a caricature in many respects but also very adroit and consistent, making him a pleasure to watch.

Playing To Win

Directed by Debora Lui ’02

Written by Damian Isla G

Starring David Crow ’01, Camilo Guaqueta ’03, Nick White ’03, Matt Wilkerson ’04

This year’s one acts concluded with graduate student Damian Isla’s Playing To Win. Isla’s script was the longest and richest of the three, utilizing multi-faceted characters and evolving conflicts, and it was brought to life by a fantastic cast directed by Debora Lui ’02. The play’s storyline was near and dear to most MIT students’ hearts: the trials and tribulations of interviewing for a programming job.

The opening scene, which included a cameo from veteran actor Sarwate, nicely set up the hero, Adam (Matt Wilkerson ’04), as the slightly lost underdog in a ruthless business world. Most of the story was expressed through conversations between Adam and his roommates, Steve (David Crow ’01, who showed excellent stage presence), a selfish and excitable big man on campus, and Ted (Camilo Guaqueta ’03), a Nintendo-playing slacker.

One of the only disappointing elements of the performance was that the audience seemed to side strongly with Ted, even though, as Isla stated later, Ted was a “completely tragic character” who never justified why he sat around the house all day. The various bursts of applause and catcalls that were heard when Ted insulted Adam and Steve were as much a social commentary on the audience as anything in the play.

Many of the scenes involved the unusual transition back and forth between Adam’s interviews (conducted by the refined and sadistic Nick White ’03, putting in my favorite performance of the evening) and his subsequent lamentations to Ted. This difficulty was navigated adeptly by the director’s blocking and the cast, especially Wilkerson, who smoothly jumped from calmly claiming to know Sequel in the interview to much less calmly asking Ted what Sequel is. Playing To Win had a wonderful, clever script (although the ending, a commentary on the future of the dot-com era, came off as a bit preachy), and it was held together by a terrific ensemble, making it an excellent conclusion to the evening.

As I said earlier, the one acts are often viewed as theater without a net. This weekend, Dramashop’s fall team showed that they didn’t need one, as they took three comedies in three highly different styles and brought them to life in three unique ways. Commendation is deserved for everyone involved, and the abundance of great performances by freshmen is evidence that the MIT acting pool is in good shape for the near future.