The faculty in the English department took steps last year towards a connection with the theater and dance department by allowing playwriting classes to be counted for English course credit. This semester, their relationship has grown even further. The Green Room, a student-directed theater group that is not part of the theater department, brought these two departments closer together by hosting a playwriting competition. Sponsored by the English department, the idea was that six one-act plays would be chosen from a multitude of student submissions, and the group would perform the winning plays. The competition was judged by English professor Christopher Grobe and playwright-in-residence Connie Congdon. The two departments started the project by providing monetary resources as well as a performance space, but once the plays were chosen almost everything else was entirely student-driven.
The project was impressively large for such a new student group to take on. The Green Room’s production team had to find directors, actors and stage managers for all six plays and ended up with students from a wide variety of backgrounds in terms of theatrical experience. There were many layers of involvement from different types of students. Many English majors submitted plays to the contest, while people already involved in theater auditioned to be in the plays, but some outside people who were friends with the playwrights auditioned, which made for a refreshingly different cast.
The showcase was called “ADRifT” because the one uniting theme in a diverse group of plays was a sense of being lost. Although each play expressed it differently, it is not surprising that college students would choose to write about finding their place in a stressful world.
If I’m being honest, I can’t claim to have liked all of these plays. I can’t claim to even have understood all of these plays. But I do think that I gained something out of watching this showcase. In particular, the shows “A Hateful Heart,” written and directed by Frank Tavares ’18, and “Tin Can Desert,” written and directed by Michael Barnett ’18, provided interesting food for thought. “A Hateful Heart” presents a disturbing sci-fi scenario in which a woman finds herself trapped in a laboratory where each of her body parts are replaced daily with manufactured replicas. Tavares raises questions concerning what it means to have a body be yours — is a body your body because of the experiences it has gone through, or is there another deeper level connecting human consciousness with physical form? “A Hateful Heart” was an impressive combination of philosophical thinking, beautiful writing and just a little bit of terror.
“Tin Can Desert” hinges on a situation — the idea of a gay man and a straight woman being the last two people on earth and the awkward humor that ensues surrounding the question of repopulating the human race. However, it takes awhile to realize what exactly the situation is, because a lot of time is spent creating the characters’ world. The actors did a wonderful job setting up a destroyed, trash-covered, lonely earth by starting the play with an uncomfortably long silence where they busied themselves organizing the garbage around them. Barnett asks his audience how a person can exist if they are the only thing that exists in the world, and the even more existentially daunting question of how a person in such a position could possibly matter at all. What is most impressive is that he does all this with a sense of humor throughout it all, and does not leave his audience as emotionally deserted as one might think.
Those were by far the two most out-there concepts for plays. Most of the plays seemed to draw from real experiences of college-aged people. “Blue and Yellow,” written by Julia Pike ’19 and directed by Paola Garcia-Prieto ’18, was a great snapshot of everyday life for two female college students and tackled the very relatable topics of not-quite-romances and gaslighting by manipulative men. Other plays also dealt with similar themes of love and loss, but they did not have quite the same relatable quality as “Blue and Yellow.” It is not that the other plays were badly done; they were all just incredibly male-centric. They focused on depicting a “bro” culture that I personally believe the world has seen enough of. I concede that the playwrights were most likely trying to point out the flaws in this culture of toxic masculinity. However, I think they could have done so in a way that focused more on the feminine side of this culture and did not just use female characters as paper cut-outs with whom the men on stage flirted. This happens quite literally with the personality-less character “Sandy” in “Wikihow to Whisper in a Girl’s Ear,” written and directed by David Green ’18 and co-written by Alli Bennett ’18, and in a more nuanced way in “Sanctus,” written and assistant directed by Mary Grace Cronin ’18 and directed by Sophina Flores ’18, because the women there were so insignificant I don’t even recall any of their names. The remaining play, “Final Thoughts,” written and directed by Forest Sisk ’17 and co-directed by Brett Sokol ’19, did not really have much to do with women at all. Again, I do not mean to disparage those who worked hard on these shows. They were well-done by the actors and directors, and the quality of the writing was high (especially for a college production). I was simply disappointed that half of these shows excluded women from the bigger picture.
The Green Room hopes to continue this collaboration with the English department and the theater and dance department to make the student-written, one-act showcase an annual event, providing more opportunities for people not regularly involved in the theater community to participate.