A flame flickers on and off as Jon Gordon '11 and Sam Usher '12 muse about East Providence street names. Nicola Ryan '13 slaughters Conor Kane '14 at the audience's request in a gladiator match. It rains puzzle pieces. A teacher painfully stumbles through a discussion of a bad "apple" with his parents. Businessmen break down over Sandra Bullock, lip balm and the mind-body duality.
Since many flavors blend to create this year's production of the annual undergraduate theater festival, "Three Chairs Two Cubes," it appeals to diverse tastes.
It also incorporates fresh ingredients. Over the past month, the Production Workshop board reviewed about four dozen new one-act plays by students and narrowed them down to five, said producer Abby Colella '12. "It's really incredible to see what people come up with."
The festival's name comes from the fact that directors are given three chairs and two stage cubes to incorporate into their staging — while directors may choose not to use the pieces, they may not use anything else, Colella said.
Kathleen Braine '11.5 composed "Klondike Bars" in response to a "need to put emotions on paper," she said. Partaking in the rehearsal process, Braine said, she was surprised to "see all the different incarnations that my play could have."
Ben Freeman '13, director of Braine's surrealistically poetic piece about friends mourning a loved one while assembling a jigsaw puzzle, said he envisioned the play "almost like a fugue" or symphony. "I was sort of imagining ocean waves," he added, which "ebb and flow" like the stages of grief.
To Jillian Jetton '14, who acts in "Klondike Bars," it is about "different ways that people can deal with grief." Braine said she hopes it leads viewers to "value the people they love."
But the production also includes comedic and nonsensical selections. "Wednesday Afternoon," a parent-teacher dialogue by Charlotte Crowe '11, progresses from contrived politeness to unrestrained barbarism that leaves audience members squirming in their seats. The impeccable comic timing of Rafael Cebrian '11 satirizes parents who transmit their childishness to their kids.
Writer Justin O'Neill '11 used absurdist humor to comment on a success-obsessed society in "Orlando Brokedown Meltdown: A Parable." Director Sam Alper '11 said the characters, who synchronously descend into existential crises at a business conference, are plagued by inability to construct their own identities. Their unprompted meltdowns are intentionally "unnatural," he said, to accentuate the externally-driven workaholic's feeling of "turning yourself into a robot … a version of yourself that's unnatural, that you don't recognize."
The businessmen's surface frenzy over their place and purpose in Orlando gradually reveals itself as the torment of minds caught in a material universe. John Racioppo's '11 monologue about the centrality of drugstores to modern life makes the audience painfully aware of human powerlessness over the body. The actors also comically and tragically address the limits of interpersonal connection. "Do you guys love me?" asks Jared Rosa '14. "Don't answer if it's awkward."
"The Gladiator Game" by Justin Kuritzkes '12 — "more of a game that the audience plays than a play," according to director Doug Eacho '11 — defamiliarizes a glorified Roman spectacle and asks viewers to decide what they value more: compassion or entertainment. Eacho said he was interested in locating the line between "enjoyable" violence and brutality that is "difficult to watch."
Max Posner's '11 "Benevolence" puts a twist on the lore of local streets, exploiting people's curious psychological tendency to correlate names with personality traits. When your name is Arnold, for instance, "they're so glad you're dead they'll name anything after you." But "Benevolence" also becomes a story about the guilt of a passive bystander.
The collaboration among student writers, actors, directors and crewmembers accomplishes what Colella cited as PW's goals: to produce "very much a variety show" and "offer opportunities for undergraduate playwrights." It also sparks contemplation and laughter along the way. Some of the performances are a bit messy and not quite absorbing, perhaps reflecting the cast's limited rehearsal time. The first few, in particular — "Benevolence," "The Gladiator Game" and "Klondike Bars" — fall short of provoking thought or conveying clear messages, but the energy picks up in "Wednesday Afternoon" and "Orlando Brokedown." The entire cast's enthusiasm shines through and makes the experience fun for spectators as well.
Eacho said the delight of the show for those who worked on it was its examination of topics that "interest all of us and concern all of us."
Freeman said he finds it "exciting to see that our peers are capable of great things."
"Three Chairs Two Cubes" runs at T. F. Green Hall Oct. 22–25. Admission is free.