I sat. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And, in doing so, I got concerned for the fifth annual Theatre Intime Freshman One Act Festival. The stage lighting shone too brightly and for too long on a set of clashing oranges and teals in a 1960s home. It was already well past the advertised curtain-time and everything looked so haphazard and ragged and asymmetrical and chaotic that I began to fear for my life. Could this be indicative of the overall performance quality of the production that evening? Well, luckily, it wasn’t. And, instead, I was treated to three radically different vignettes this evening that fortunately left me—dare I say—mostly entertained.
Contribution, directed by Roger Q. Mason ’08 came first in the line up. Written by the minor African-American playwright and critic Ted Shine, Contribution takes place in the 1960s, on the day of a lunch-counter sit-in. This play—written in a style that could be a cross between Lorraine Hansberry and a Hitchcock movie—interweaves the historical travails of the civil rights movement and those who made their contributions long before it with a narrative that is at times comedic and at others frankly morbid. In this way, the author seems to be attempting to both catalogue and caricature the struggle between the older generations who made it possible for the younger ones to participate and of their different methods of achieving parity in American society. Kelechi Ezie, as Grace Love, does a good job with the role of the tired but fierce grandmother, with an impossibly gorgeous voice, a good sense of humor and a well-maintained geriatric posture and demeanor. Of the three, Contribution felt the most rough around the edges, if only peripherally, like when Grace clutches a pan fresh out of the oven with a bare hand and no sense of pain. More essentially, there is a certain lack of gravitas that the situation of race and generational relations called for, and a lack of tension between the sparring generations of Grace and her grandson Eugene. Furthermore, even though death is a constant theme throughout the play, one never actually fears for or about any character’s life. But Contribution, along with its actors, encompasses a sense of spirit and effort that cannot be dampened by any of the minor weaknesses.
Set in one of those culturally ambiguous cafés in modern day Los Angeles, Breakfast, by Zipporah Porton and directed by Douglas Laventure ’08, is the second act of the festival. Playing host to a varied set of rude and troubled breakfast guests—ranging from ‘the studio wife’ to ‘the agent’ to ‘the aspiring actress’ to ‘the gay writer’—of the Hollywood industry, the play feels manic and wicked. Most of the actors, whether deadpan or completely over the top, steal their scenes from the playwright and from each other, as each character tries to dominate the other through the different power dynamics that exist within each relationship and within their intertwined lives. Alex Ripp, as a jaded waitress, and Max Rosmarin, as a lascivious agent, are particularly humorless and particularly memorable. However, despite Breakfast’s knowingness about L.A. life, the play’s diagnosis of the ludicrously superficial cultural seems a little too stereotypical (even though one character makes the point that stereotypes do exist for a certain, legitimate purpose). This was a slight fault, however, in an acerbically hilarious and fast-paced show. On the verge of becoming bratty, the last scene cuts sharply at a perfect moment of grounding and exhaustion, before the audience turns on the play the way most characters have turned on each other.
Dear Mandy was, wrongly, the book-end of the show. By far the weakest of the three, it was a Sleepless in Seattle variant centered on a narcissistic advice columnist as unlucky-in-love as those who wrote her desperate letters. When one of her flippant columns endorses a particularly unfortunate scenario (the word ‘shrine’ is involved) and brings the male recipient of the bad advice to complain at her proverbial office doorstep, (the supposed) sexual tension of a love-hate relationship ensues with a few complications and a happy ending. The scenario did reek of predictability to the point that, at times, I wondered if Meg Ryan would make a cameo. Moreover, the character of the romantic leads did not help the situation: Molly (aka Dear Mandy) was just too whiny and neurotic; Brian, her love interest, was a wimp. And though, generally, none of the plot and character contrivances and annoyances were the fault of this production, a more innovative—if equally upbeat—play could have been chosen. However, Dear Mandy was almost wholly saved by a few wonderful performances: Max Kenneth as a catatonic dinner date; Janna McLeod as Molly’s witticism-swapping colleague; and Will Ellerbe and Molly Jamieson, who hilariously interposed scenes as different letter readers and wannabe-advisees. In the end, however light-hearted its intentions and its well-meaning attempt, Mandy and her cast of characters became trying in their 45-minute length.
Like Dear Mandy, OAF ran for too long. Nearly three hours in length (including intermissions), its sophomority—for lack of a better word—became wearisome; a good effort and sense of energy could only sustain it for so long. It also lacked a constant thread or theme to hold it together. Though the first two acts both explored issues of power relations, I didn’t leave with one thing in mind to explore. OAF also failed to leave me with any new revelations about the generational gap, superficiality, or being Lost in Love, but I did leave feeling as if a few new promising entertainers had emerged. And that was what the festival did best—entertain. With so much college theatre reeking of pretension angst, OAF and its players were refreshing and young and freshman. Besides, they have three more years to become angsty.