“The Big Picture App?” Explores Global Issues of Technology and Social Networking

On March 29, “The Big Picture App?,” which according to the department of Theater, Film, and Media studies (TFMS) website is  director Meredith Taylor’s “latest and final project for the college,” opened in the Bruce Davis theater for the 2011-2012 theater season.

The play explores hot topics of our modern society through satire, media clips, poetry, music, and other artistic forms. “The Big Picture App?” comments on an array of global issues such as our dependency on technology, personal health, self-perception, and the environment. The play looks at how we deal with these problems and how we can find solutions on a community level.

The central theme of “The Big Picture App?” is how technology affects our personal lives. The play reminds us how contradictory it is to be connected to each other through technology, such as social networking sites, while being disconnected to each other in reality and on the simplest, human level.  The play features personal and localized links to SMCM as the cast gave their own backgrounds and discussed topics such as the living wage, mold, and Occupy DC.

As an original piece written by the cast, “The Big Picture App?” was a beautiful and eye-opening performance. It offered a different way of confronting the issues that haunt us on a daily basis. As the ensemble faced cancer, media constraints. brainwashing, and nuclear warfare, one couldn’t help but be in complete awe of the effort that went into the play. The actors’ individual performances were especially powerful and enjoyable to watch.

Despite a minor sound glitch, which the cast handled professionally, the play was a wonderful success. It was also innovative to use recycled material to form the stage wall and the masks and costumes such as senior Briana Manente’s  bottle label lab coat. The cast also welcomed and involved audience participation by speaking to them personally, giving them certain roles, and allowing them to sit in seats around and on the stage.  Through laughs and gasps, the play definitely got its point across.

“The Big Picture App?” will continue to run through Saturday, April 7. Tickets can be reserved by emailing the box office at boxoffice@smcm.edu or by calling 240-895-4243.

Shakespeare in the Sixties; “As You Like It” With a Twist

In director Michael Ellis-Tolaydo’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, Rosalind (first year Emma Kaufman), the daughter of the exiled Duchess (senior Jameylyn Warren), is banished by her evil aunt Lady Frederick (senior Briana Manente).

With the help of her cousin Celia (sophomore Katie Henry) and the court fool Touchstone (senior Jess O’Rear), Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede to pursue her love, Orlando (junior Nick Huber).

Kaufman and Henry had excellent chemistry together and were believable as co-conspirators in their love schemes. Their comedic timing in their duos was well-timed; Kaufman was especially humorous when trying to convince the love struck Phebe to turn her affections elsewhere.

Huber and Kaufman also worked well together, exploiting much humor in the tensions between Orlando and “Ganymede.” Huber endeared himself as the sweet youth in love and it was gratifying to watch him succeed.

Manente was particularly notable as the evil Lady Frederick. Armed with a riding crop and a sour attitude, she commanded physically and emotionally every scene she was in.

Interestingly, the play specifies both Frederick and her sibling as males; in Ellis-Tolaydo’s version both characters were women, a gender-bending move that worked well.

Also impressive was junior Tobias Franzén as the melancholy Jaques. Reciting any of Shakespeare’s famous soliloquies is a hefty task, but Franzen performed “all the world’s a stage” impressively.

He consistently seemed to have an excellent grasp on his lines and delivered them humorously and poignantly.

“The whit and perfect timing, especially that of Jaques’ character, kept me enthralled the entire time,” said senior Kenneth Doutt.

The play also deeply benefitted from O’Rear as Touchstone and sophomore Jemarc-Van Axinto as Silvius, the shepherd in love with Phebe (the shepherdess in love with “Ganymede”).

O’Rear was incredibly funny and employed a puppet for full comedic effect. Axinto also added to the comic relief with a perfectly executed dopey-eyed stare that remained fixed on his love interest throughout most of his time on stage.

The costuming was interesting, though it was mildly successful. Because the costumes were set in the 1960s, they were able to distinguish among the classes and the different societal groups. However, it didn’t add that much to the overall performance. Additionally, the use of “Yellow Submarine” was odd and seemed to force the actors to break character, as well as the fourth wall.

Audience interaction, which does not normally spring to mind when discussing Shakespeare, was implemented in the play, which can either provoke more laughs from the audience or just make people feel uncomfortable.

Eye contact was made, strolling within the audience bleachers was involved, and people were called out as “representing” the different stages of age within the “all the world’s a stage” monologue.

Overall, though, “As You Like It” was an energetic and fun performance filled with laughs. The cast worked very well together, and all the parts, including the set and the lighting, effectively created a comedic atmosphere.

Freshman Kaleigh O’Neill stated, “I really enjoyed the play. The actors did a great job of bringing Shakespeare to life and I’m really glad I went!”

Three Minute Review: Mother Hicks Dynamic and Fun

This weekend the play “Mother Hicks,” directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Holly Blumner, opened as part of the Theater Film and Media Studies (TFMS) Department’s  2010-2011 Theater Season.

The play takes place in 1935 in Ware, Illinois, when the country is suffering the effects of the Great Depression. The play centers around the characters Tuck (junior Chris Murk), Girl (first-year Katie Henry), Mother Hicks (junior Briana Manente) and their struggles as outsiders.

Tuck is both deaf and mute, yet through Blumner’s use of sign language and the interpretation of other characters, Tuck narrates the play. Tuck uses only sign language and a wide array of facial expressions to communicate throughout the play. Chris Murk as Tuck signs so beautifully that it is shocking to learn that he did not know sign language before this play. He expresses himself so well that the audience has to simply look at his face to tell what he is thinking.

The two female leads, Katie Henry and Briana Manete are no less impressive with their speaking roles. In fact, the two female leads really bring their characters to life through their use of dialect. Henry’s ‘Girl’ is such an Illinois tomboy that when she is on stage the audience is completely enraptured by her. Henry could not have been better cast to play such a character. She lends so much spunk and childlike disobedience to the character, that you nearly forget she is a first-year in college and not a young girl.

Manete’s ‘Mother Hicks’ is also enrapturing to watch. Accusations of being a witch have isolated Mother Hicks from the rest of the community and Manente’s portrayal uses this forced isolation to create a gruff, independent, yet pitiful character.

Like Henry’s portrayal of Girl, Manete brings her character to life so wonderfully that when she steps off the stage as herself you half wonder how she will receive you.

Overall the play was wonderfully done. All of the actors were at the top of their game, the use of sign language was interesting and dynamic, and the costumes and props were wonderfully authentic.

The only point of contention was the way the stage was designed. Its diamond pattern meant that often characters would stand where only half of the audience could see them. For a majority of the play this was not a problem, but for some scenes one had to guess what was occurring since it was impossible to see.

Tickets for Mother Hicks can be reserved by email at boxoffice@smcm.edu or phone at (240)-895-4243.


“Hay Fever” Opens to Great Reviews and a Good Time

Photo Submitted by Dave Wayne.
Photo Submitted by Dave Wayne.
In the Bliss household, reality is very rarely real. Judith, a recently retired actress, her husband David, and her two children, Sorel and Simon, love to cause, propagate, and react to drama, whether real or not.

When they all inadvertently invite houseguests down for the same weekend, the boxer, the flapper, the diplomat, and the sophisticate are in for quite an eventful weekend. In Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, which opened in the Bruce Davis Theater on October 14, the cast and crew produced a hilarious version of this 1920s comedy of words.

Briana Manente (Judith Bliss) was fabulous as the larger-than-life matriarch. Although she rushed a little towards the beginning, she quickly fell into a fast-paced and witty pace.

Her over-emoting, polished upper class dialect, and impeccable use of exaggerated hand gestures, perfectly portrayed the stereotypical dramatic (even in “reality”) actress.

Lisa M. Davidson was engaging as the bouncy, pouty, and flighty Sorel Bliss. Her skipping conveyed youth and excitement, as did her sudden outbursts at her mother and brother.

Simon too, played by Maxwell Heaton, had excellent comedic timing with dry delivery and a lazy, mildly apathetic physicality and intonation. Tobias Franzen as David Bliss was not upstaged by his dramatic wife or his unique children; instead he held his own with his alternating apparent disinterest and startling, commanding yelling.

The Bliss family together had excellent chemistry as they interacted in their own, self-important world. When they seamlessly slide into a dramatic scene from one of Judith’s plays from their own real argument, the effect is hilarious.

The ensemble in its various forms provided an excellent view into the characters, whether watching Sorel and Judith read a newspaper and giggle together, or Simon and Sorel bickering in the beginning over Sorel’s invited guest.

Rapid witty banter with few pauses in the speech is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves little time for the audience to try to find a deep meaning.

Nick Huber (Sandy Tyrell), Emily Moore (Myra Arundel), Jonathan Wagner (Richard Greatham), and Naomi Garcia (Jackie Coryton) as the four guests, and Suzanna Sample as Clara were all also thoroughly entertaining.

Huber’s puppy-dog innocence and sincerity was endearing and contrasted well with the intensity and drama of the Blisses.

Wagner’s sweetness in dealing with the insanity surrounding him was refreshing, and the shy and simple character of Jackie was demurely played by Garcia. Arundel was highly enjoyable with a constantly sour face and haughty tone.

And Sample captured the character of Judith’s dresser-turned-housekeeper with her clever remarks and knowing responses.

The set reflected the opulence and extravagance of the Bliss family, but did create a few, albeit minor, problems. A grand staircase that twists and flares at the bottom perfectly captures the drama the Bliss family clearly prefers, as did carpets, couches, and a footstool in vibrant patterns.

However, the carpet did trip up the actors a few times and got caught on the bottom of the couches, kinks that didn’t remotely affect the overall performance but could have been slightly annoying to a perfectionist.

Additionally, the hanging backdrop that represented the garden moved as each actor walked by, and slamming doors occasionally shook walls, but except for slightly breaking the realism, the effect was minimal.

Hay Fever will be performing Oct. 21 through 23 at 8 p.m. and 24 at 2 p.m.