‘New Directors Festival’ showcases talent of Brown student theater

By
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

“The New Directors Festival,” produced by Elliot Quick ’07 and James Rutherford ’07, was held over the weekend in the upstairs space at the Production Workshop.

The three one-act plays featured in the show – Christopher Durang’s comedy “Wanda’s Visit,” Dael Orlandersmith’s five-part monologue piece “Beauty’s Daughter” and Ernest Hemingway’s dramatic “Hills Like White Elephants” – differed in style and setting. Yet the show was thematically unified in its exploration of the linguistic ruptures between individuals and cultures that must be bridged if people are to understand and love each other.

The struggle to obtain human understanding and find love was effectively portrayed in “Wanda’s Visit” under the direction of Jason Lee ’09. The play revolves around Jim (Chris Lee ’09) and Marsha (Sarah Tolan-Mee ’07), a once happy but now alienated married couple who receive a visit from Jim’s former girlfriend, Wanda.

Through a parody of the use and misuse of language, the play displays the comic talents of Luo and Tolan-Mee, whose characters stand in contrast to one another. Wanda dresses in tasteless clothes and freely talks about her sex life, failed relationships and past love for Jim, while Marsha is dressed plainly and exhibits a cynically tightlipped politesse. This comedic juxtaposition between the female leads suggests the darker emotional sterility of Jim, whose banality prevents him from finding lasting happiness with either the uninhibited Wanda or the straight-laced Marsha.

Once Wanda’s uninhibited presence is removed from the action, Jim and Marsha find a new life as they conform to the social norms of a “happy marriage,” but their conformity ultimately leaves them dissatisfied. The play ends with Marsha’s bitter observation that Wanda’s visit would have been an unexpected blessing if only she and Jim were happy.

“Beauty’s Daughter,” directed by Mark Brown II ’09, continued the show’s exploration of the failure of communication in love through five monologues performed by two actors, Alexandra Metz ’08 and Kevin Dias ’10.

In its explication of race and family relationships, “Beauty’s Daughter” deals with the struggles of five characters. Diane is a black woman, the victim of a failed relationship with a white man who did not reciprocate her love. Papo is a Puerto Rican, a drug dealer trying to save his mother and sister from his abusive father. Mary is Diane’s beloved grandmother, a woman who talks to her dead husband about how she wants to help Diane. Blind Louie is a shoeshine man, a drug addict who asks Diane for money to buy drugs. And Beauty is Diane’s mother, a woman who blames Diane for ruining her dance career when her Caucasian-like looks allowed her to perform in white-only nightclubs.

Metz played the roles of Diane, Mary and Beauty and was striking for the dramatic range she displayed in portraying three generations of women in the same family. Dias, who portrayed the roles of Papo and Blind Louie, was especially impressive in playing the crack-addict Blind Louie whose rhythmic movements were syncopated to the beat of his lyrical voice.

The last piece, “Hills like White Elephants,” provocatively communicated more through silence than dialogue. Excellently adapted from Hemingway’s short story and directed by Sarah Campen ’07, this piece illustrated the radical breakdown in communication between a couple impersonally identified as “the American” (Boaz Munro ’09) and “the Girl” (Lily Garrison ’10).

Sitting in a Spanish train station in 1927, the couple is en route to a clinic where the Girl will get an abortion at the demand of the American. Powerful in their expression and movement, Boaz and Garrison appear lost in the solipsism of their individual thoughts as each gazes at the hills in the distance rather than at each other.

The Girl remarks that the “hills look like white elephants” because her pregnancy gives her the optimism and poetic vision to see the beauty and fecundity of life even as she is traveling to receive an abortion. By contrast, the American is prosaic and pessimistic, rejecting the happiness that the Girl and her pregnancy potentially offer to him.

Though the couple exchanges soft smiles and adoring glances, the pregnancy that should join them together instead splits them apart. As they use the demonstrative “that” and the impersonal pronoun “it” when discussing the pregnancy and abortion, language loses the power to connect them.

Dancing from affection to distaste, the Girl ultimately demands, “Can you do me a favor? Would you stop talking?” This dramatic request ends the dialogue, as the two sit in silence before they leave the train station and the play ends.

In its expositions of the linguistic barriers that limit human understanding and love, “The New Directors Festival” confirmed both the continuing and the emerging strength of the theater community at Brown.