Play Preview: Japanese Comedies to be Performed at St. Mary’s

In November, students and staff are invited to watch a unique performance entitled “Laughing at Life: a Performance of Kyôgen Plays.” Directed by Theater, Film, and Media Professor Holly Blumner, the play includes four short comical skits in the Kyôgen play form, which originated in Japan in the fourteenth century.

“They used to be performed in between very long, very somber plays that were influenced by Buddhism,” Blumner said. “They are actually very short. We are doing four short plays; there will be three twenty to twenty five minute plays and one seven-minute play. The seven-minute play will be performed in the Japanese language.”

The play in Japanese is called “Iroha: Learning the Alphabet”, and it presents a challenge to the actors who will have to learn to say the lines phonetically. In this play, a father teaches his son the Japanese alphabet, but the child has difficulty concentrating, and gives his father a hard time. According to Blumner, the audience will be provided with English supertitles above the stage so you can read what the actors are saying even though they will be speaking in Japanese.

Another short play is called “Busu: Delicious Poison”, and involves a master, played by Adebisi Tiamiyu, who has two servants. The master doesn’t want his servants to cause any trouble, so he tells them not to touch his barrel because it is allegedly full of poison. Naturally, The servants become extremely curious about it and they end up opening this poison; only to find that it is really sugar. They proceed to consume all of the sugar and develop what Blumner described as a sugar high. After a plethora of silliness, the master comes home and the servants have to explain exactly what happened.

“I am very excited to have a part,” Tiamiyu said. “Especially since I get to be the master. I have never been apart of any other play.”

Another play, entitled “Utsubozaru: The Monkey Bow-Quiver” involves three characters, a monkey, a monkey trainer, and a Japanese lord, called a Daimyô. The Daimyô sees the monkey when he is hunting, setting up the comedic interaction for the characters.

The final play is called “Bôshibari: Tied to a Pole” and also features the master-servant dynamic often seen in Japanese theater.

“In this play, the master doesn’t want to leave the servants alone with his sake,” said Blumner. “There’s a little bit of mischief as the servants steal the sake and get more than a little tipsy.”

The plays will run from Nov. 8 to Nov. 18.

“I hope the St. Mary’s community will come and see it,” said Blumner. “What I find really interesting about these plays is that although they have their origins in the fourteenth century, you find the themes are often really universal. I think as human beings, we all feel joy, we all crave love, and we all have anger and happiness. It’s just interesting to me that you can still laugh at something that was four hundred years ago and in a different culture; but you can still relate.”

Prepare for a Night of Bliss When you Catch Hay Fever

Juniors Lisa Davidson, Maxwell Heaton, and Briana Manente make up 3/4 of the theatrical Bliss family whose antics we follow in 1920’s England in the play “Hay Fever. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Rhoda and the TFMS Department)
Juniors Lisa Davidson, Maxwell Heaton, and Briana Manente make up 3/4 of the theatrical Bliss family whose antics we follow in 1920’s England in the play “Hay Fever. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Rhoda and the TFMS Department)

In the Bliss household, a lot of drama goes a long way. The antics this melodramatic family displays in a lively weekend is the fun plot of Neil Coward’s comedy Hay Fever, opening in the Bruce Davis Theater on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Hay Fever takes place in the 1920s in an upper-crust English home: Mother Judith Bliss (Junior Briana Manente), is a recently retired famous actress, her husband David (Sophomore Tobias Franzén) is a mystery writer, and her two children, Sorel (Junior Lisa Davidson) and Simon (Junior Max Heaton), are equally eccentric and theatrical.

When each member invites an unsuspecting guest for the weekend, a flapper (First-year Naomi Garcia ), a diplomat (Junior Jonathan Wagner), a boxer (Sophomore Nick Huber), and sophisticate (Sophomore Emily Moore) all unwittingly participate in theatrical situations that may or may not really exist.

Since the Blisses are all unconventional to begin with, and they certainly don’t change to accommodate their guests, each guest is shocked when their one-on-one weekend turns into a family affair.
According to director Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, the play is based on Laurette Taylor, “an old-school diva,” and the big weekends that she used to have wherein huge arguments would erupt and an hour later everyone would be back to having normal, peaceful conversations. It’s a comedy of manners, and a comedy of language.

Ellis-Tolaydo explains it’s “nothing deep, just a slice of a glorified view of an old theatrical family and how they live.”

He compares it to being invited to Britney Spears house for a weekend with some of your friends and some of her friends and the out of place feeling you’d imagine having.

The play, which opens in a little less than two weeks, is coming along well. “It’s a really great cast; a really wonderful group of actors,” says Ellis-Tolaydo. “We’re all having a jolly time.”

The show will be performed on Oct. 14-16 and 21-23 at 8 p.m., and on Oct. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $4 for students, faculty, SMCM staff, senior citizens, or Arts Alliance Members, and $6 for general admission. To reserve tickets, contact the theater box office at 240-895-4243 or email boxoffice@smcm.edu.

Review: Cabaret’s Scandalous Atmosphere Shocks Audience

Photos

Click to enlarge
Senior Julia Shatto, as fame-hungry Brit Sally Bowles, star of The Kit Kat Klub, performing her last number of the show, “Cabaret.” (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)Photo by Brendan O'HaraPhoto by Brendan O'HaraEmily Moore, Mary Coy, Carmen Fuentes, and Caitlin Cromer dance to the song “Money.” In this song, each girl was meant to represent a different world currency as signified by her costume. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)Photo by Brendan O'HaraAs one of the sexy Kit Kat girls, Maria Tolbert performed the group number “Telephone.” Tolbert, as well as the other Kit Kat boys and girls, interacted with the audience before and during the show.  (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)

Upon first entering the Bruce Davis Theater in Montgomery Hall on Friday night in order to watch the school’s production of the musical Cabaret, the atmosphere can be a bit of a shock.

From the change in the set-up of audience seating and the live orchestra to the actors who walk around in fishnet tights and speak with German accents, the mood becomes drastically different.

When the advertisers of the production had mentioned that they wanted the theater to feel like the audience members were truly attending the Kit Kat Klub, the nightclub in which many of the play’s scenes take place, they weren’t joking around.

The entire audience section has been rearranged for the production’s seven showings of the play. The bleacher-like seating has mostly been taken down, with only two small sections remaining at the back of the theater, and a dozen or so tables have been put around the stage, which is what helps creates the nightclub-esque setting.

The doors are opened by the ushers forty-five minutes in advance in order to allow the audience time to find seats, snack on the pretzels that have been placed at every table, and order drinks from the actors who temporarily become waiters, while also staying in character.

Then, promptly at 8 o’clock, the production begins as a few of the Kit Kat Klub girls begin engaging in an altercation in the middle of the audience.

The playgoers, though, slowly become used to the mingling of the actors and actresses throughout the audience, as it happens fairly often during the two-and-a-half-hour production. Although this can cause some audience members to feel slightly uncomfortable, it still adds more to the whole experience.

From one of the Nazi officers plucking a pretzel off of one of the tables only to bite it and throw it back down at the audience, to (perhaps the cutest part of the play) Maria Tolbert dancing around the floor with a particularly young and enthusiastic child from the front row, these interactions reinforce the feel that the audience member is not only attending the Kit Kat Klub, but has become a part of the play itself.

A note of advice should be given, though: if you do not feel comfortable with actors mingling in the audience or touching you, it would be best to not sit in any of the front row or aisle seats.

Overall, though, most audience members seemed to highly enjoy the play. While the execution of the dancing could have been far better, the singing and acting were very well done.

Briana Manente and Daniel Glassberg, who played the love-stricken characters of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, added most of the comic relief that helped to break up the other political and promiscuous themes of the production.

The actors were all able to achieve decent replications of the stereotyped German accent for their parts, which at times weren’t comprehensible, but were still fairly well done.

The accents, along with the costumes that mainly consisted for both males and females of fishnets, bodices, and large amounts of uncovered skin, were helpful in achieving the atmosphere of the naughty and promiscuous 1930s Berlin nightlife.

The three remaining showings of Cabaret are scheduled for March 9-11 at 8 p.m. in the Bruce Davis Theater of Montgomery Hall.

Theatre Department Celebrates a Night of Grand Openings

Thursday, Nov. 12 saw the official opening of the St. Mary’s theater department’s fall comedy play Arms and the Man, written by George Bernard Shaw, as well as the grand re-opening of Montgomery Hall’s Bruce Davis Theater.

The night began at 7:00 p.m. with an informal gathering in the front hallway of Montgomery Hall, where professors, members of the community, and a couple of students took time between eating cupcakes and drinking apple cider to talk about the Theater, Film, and Media Studies (TFMS) department.

By 7:45 p.m., everyone had gathered by the entrance to the newly renovated Bruce Davis Theater, where the symbolic ribbon- cutting ceremony was about to take place. “We have a wonderful new theater,” said Professor Merideth Taylor, the TFMS department chair, as she gave her introductory speech.

Tom Botzman, Vice President of Business and Finance, then took his turn at the podium to speak about the remodeled theater. “This is a state-funded project,” Botzman said, “and we’re thrilled to have this project done.”

After the ribbon was cut and the doors were officially opened, the audience began pouring into the theater in order to take their first look at all of the improvements and renovations. Many said that the Bruce Davis Theater had a whole new atmosphere.

With the balcony gone, the department had more room to place a larger number of audience chairs. The seats that are placed all of the way on both sides do not have the best view of the house, but overall, the new setup is more sensible.

“I think the re-done theater is fabulous!” said sophomore Briana Manente, who also appeared in the play as the Bulgarian mother, Catherine Petkoff. “I only got a chance to work in the old theater for one year seeing as I am a sophomore, but the improvements are immense.”

The new seating is not the only change to the Bruce Davis Theater. A new lighting booth has been added, as well as an intercom system, up-to-date equipment, soundproof doors, and extra storage space.

The grand re-opening was characterized by the smell of hay that permeated throughout the theater from the spray-painted blocks of green hay that were used as set props to look like hedges from a garden.

The play Arms and the Man, which was directed by Professor Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, lasted roughly two hours with a 10-minute intermission. Although not all of the seats were filled for the opening night, it still received a strong turnout from the campus community.

The story told was about a young Bulgarian woman, Raina Petkoff, played by Melissa Mercer, who hides the Swiss soldier Captain Bluntschli, played by Eric Horwitz, in her bedroom. “In his play,” wrote Ellis-Tolaydo in the “Director’s Note” section of the production’s program, “Shaw ridicules the romantic ideals of war and the idealized notions of marriage in the nineteenth century.”

“The theater here at SMCM is diverse enough that doing something traditional is by no means shocking,” said Manente of the play. “Something traditional does not mean that it is without intrigue and excitement, it just means Raina and Sergius aren’t doing cocaine off a guitar case.”

Some noticed at some points throughout the production that a few of the cast and crew may have had the first night jitters. There were a couple of lines that appeared to be quickly improvised.”

But even with the few mistakes, the cast and crew  gave a very nice opening night performance. From exchange student Katerina Floradis’ perfect accent for the fiery Louka to Ian Prince’s portrayal of the absurd and slightly vain Major Sergius Saranoff, the play left the audience laughing.

“I thought it was a great success,” said audience member Megan Kile. “It was very smart, very funny.”

The play will have three more showings, which will be at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 and Friday, Nov. 20 and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22.

“Overall,” said Manente, “I would say that every play, no matter what it is or what it is about, has the ability to be exciting and a great learning experience for those in the show and the audience who enjoys it.”

Polaroid Stories is a Brutal, Compelling and Touching Tale

Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Maxwell Bloch plays D, a drug dealer whose character mirrors Dionysus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

As the sound of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blasts in my ears in the Bruce Davis Theater, the darkness and neon lights begin to brighten and reveal a stage filled with metal fences, a dirty old couch and tons of graffiti. Fourteen actors walk across stage sporadically, all with intense glares and clad in crazy clothes. One by one, I see blue hair, combat boots, an unshaven face, a Mohawk, a glitter tube top, a schoolgirl outfit and an Asian-inspired men’s jacket all float from corner to corner of the theater. All of a sudden, the lights go out and a beautiful girl in a white dress begins to sing a simple tune. After all of this commotion and confusion, I think to myself, “These kids are pretty badass, but what are they on?”

Based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, “Polaroid Stories” is Naomi Iizuka’s modern take on Greek mythology through the lives of young people living in a city. These people live in the streets and tell their stories (whether they be true or false) to anyone who will listen.

Each character seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle between dissatisfaction with their lives and the escape from it. This dichotomy is a huge source of frustration for most of the characters, making the overall tone of the play powerful and compelling. I could see that each actor had put 100% of their hearts into every moment of emotionally charged project.

One of the most passionate conflicts of this play is that between the troubled Eurydice (played by Catherine Meringolo) and the lovesick Orpheus (played by John Wagner). Eurydice, who wants nothing more than to run away from the city and “see some fireworks”, often uses drugs to mentally escape form the world she cannot leave and make herself “drunk on the river of forgetfulness.” Her lover, Orpheus, wishes for her “passion-fruit flavored” thoughts and is painfully in love with her. After she runs away, Orpheus tells everyone the story of his love with guitar in hand. Their love story ends in a heart-wrenching, brilliantly performed scene.

As the only source of hope and sanity in this play, Philomel (played by Suzanna A. Sample) occasionally wanders around the set to sing- often to Orpheus. Her sweet voice echoes through the room as the characters try to make sense of her and possibly listen to her. I personally felt a possibility for change, for a release of the suffering victims from their dreadful lives.

However, this optimism was crushed during a well-choreographed and somewhat disturbing scene in the second half. Philomel’s reaction to this event – kneeling alone under the light with an expressionless, broken look on her face – tugged at my heart strings for the rest of the night.

Of the many well-written lines of this play, one which continues to enter my thoughts was an observation made by the sassy Persephone (played by Rachel Reckling). In a fit of annoyance and frustration, she exclaims, “Why does the girl always have to be made the fool?”

This century-old yet seemingly fresh question was further displayed by Skinhead Girl (played by Emily Atkins), who in a poetically delivered monologue talks about her past relationships with men through the story of a “princess.” Each man in her life puts up a fence to her, one by one, eventually leaving her in a cage where she feels alone and frightened. The final escape of her shadow into the  light is that of a remarkable and powerful figure that impresses the audience.

Skinhead Girl’s current boyfriend, Skinhead Boy (played by Adam Curtis), is the utter encapsulation of the dissatisfaction of all the characters in this play. In the most striking and emotional scene of the play, D (played by Maxwell Bloch) creepily refuses to give Skinhead Boy any drugs unless he receives a certain “reimbursement” of his own. After threatening him with a gun and harsh words, D ruthlessly beats Skinhead Boy. As Skinhead Boy’s bloody mouth and shirt are raised against the fence, the whole room grows dark except for the light shining on his face. The enchanting sounds of Sigur Ros begin to play and Skinhead Boy gives a truly touching and unforgettable account of his childhood days in Oregon.

Overall, “Polaroid Stories” was quite the experience. In between the cocaine snorting, crazy dancing and random screams, there was so much rich and raw emotion conveyed by all of the actors. And despite an accident that injured Briana Manente and called for Judy Sellner to learn the role of G in two days, the cast was incredibly concentrated and powerful.

Oh, and if you’re looking to analyze every aspect of the play, don’t bother. Alex Vaughan (who plays an incredible Narcissus), suggests that “Trying to think about it too much makes you lose the point…The show should speak for itself.”

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SubUrbia’s Strong Performances Connect With Audience

SubUrbia is a heartfelt, emotional roller-coaster that pulls the audience in and does not let go. The cast’s performance enthralls the audience as they watch conflicts and relationships unfold with visceral and unrelenting emotionality.

This play, directed by Josh Bristol, tells the story of a single night of five young adults as they struggle to come to terms with what they want, who they are, and where they are going. It starts out as a typical night for the group, getting drunk and high, listening to music, getting yelled at by the manager of the 7-11 and just hanging out. They laugh, they argue, they fight, but then their old friend, Pony, stops by. He has achieved some fame touring and playing music and his return only escalates the problems of the night. It is a play about people who don’t know what they want; who are angry and confused and a little bit scared about life in general. As a group and as individuals they address the doubts and problems that everyone faces in one form or another.

The audience is able to identify the traits of their friends and of themselves in these men and women. They are drawn into their arguments and their caresses; the audience will care what happens to these people. By the end the show they will most likely feel emotionally drained. They begin to discover that no one is without troubles and the world isn’t as perfect and orderly as it might seem.

The small cast of nine members has excellent chemistry. Both their heated rapports and light hearted scuffles inspire a sense of history, that the characters have truly known each other for years. The trio of Jeff, Tim, and Buff (seniors Adam Curtis, Jonathan Noble, and Alex Vaughan, respectively) feel like a group of kids have gotten together every weekend since elementary school. Their exchanges are strong, their silences even more so; they are redolent of the friendships that rival brotherhood.

Sooze and Pony (first-years Emily Atkins and Jonathan Wagner) act the parts of artists trying to discover how to express themselves with great conviction. As they struggle with their pasts, they must find a way to escape what beleaguers them. Beebee (senior Kiki Possick) and Erica (senior Alana Slater) are attempting to find meaning in the seemingly unending repetition of their lives. Their struggles are acted out in different but equally striking manners.

Both Norman (senior Adam Wise) and Pakeesa (senior Catherine Meringolo) play staff at the 7-11 where the kids hang out. At first, they seem to be the stereotypical mangers who just get annoyed at loiterers. But, through the earnest performance of these two actors, the audience learns that everyone has their dreams and their troubles, and everyone feels stuck in some way.

This show is very dependent on the interactions between cast members and they do not disappoint. Lines drip with emotion and strike the audience with their weight. Overall, the cast does an excellent job of expressing the wide gamut of emotions.

The set is a 7-11 storefront, impressively fitted with a real dumpster and a scruffy, well-worn look. Beer bottles, crates, trash and cigarette butts feel very natural to the convincing street-side convenience store set.
Aside from minimal line mistakes and a late sound cue, there was not much to detract from this show. The audience really gets a sense of a search for meaning and the hopelessness that is sometimes not far behind.

The cast delivers the dialogue which can be rife with profanity, with great fervor. The audience will laugh, cry, and feel disgust and empathy throughout the course of this performance. This approximately 2 ½ hour show is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an evening.

SubUrbia will be showing December 10-13 at 8:00 PM and December 14 at 2:00 PM in Bruce Davis Theatre in Montgomery Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in Montgomery Hall; prices are $4 for students, faculty, SMCM staff, senior citizens, and Arts Alliance members; $6 general admission.