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Theatre festival brings words to life


A hanging dummy, a furry red monster and a talkative young hitchhiker came  to life on stage in the "Writing is Live" festival, which concluded yesterday. Wrapping up 10 days of workshops and full productions from graduate and undergraduate playwrights, the event was presented by the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies and featured productions from its Brown/Trinity Master of Fine Arts programs and the Rites & Reason Theatre.

The festival kicked off Feb. 4 with a series of workshops exploring diverse plots including a New York City romance in Zarina Shea's GS "Grasping at Grace" and a modern take on the Icarus Story in "Lifted" by Charlie Thurston.

The following week showcased three thesis productions by MFA graduate students and a play from Franny Choi '11, a Herald editorial cartoonist.

Choi's piece, titled "Mask Dances," is the first undergraduate play to be featured in the history of the festival. It explores the Gwangju incident, an event in South Korean history marked by military brutality toward student protestors.

At the Pell Chafee Performance Center was "Meronymy," a play exploring memory and its boundaries, written by  playwright Rachel Jendrzejewski GS. 

A crowd also flocked in to see Ian McDonald's GS "The Boy Who Lived Forever (And the Woman Who Didn't)" in Leeds Theatre. The play is described by McDonald as a scary children's fairytale.

The main character, Shane (Brandon Vukovic GS), is a meek fifth grader who suffers constant bullying at the hands of his teenage neighbors. One day, while playing in the woods, he and his only companion, Lyn (Caroline Kaplan GS), come across a dead woman hanging by her neck. The pair reluctantly seeks help from Lyn's older brother Jak (Brandon Drea GS), who brings his friend Tyson (Tyler Weaks GS) along.

But piece by piece, the woman's body goes missing. Shane eventually encounters the monster (William Austin GS) that is eating the woman.

What began as a scary and funny story soon takes on the darker theme of social rejection, as Shane is terrorized by Jak and seemingly loses Lyn's friendship.

"I think it's a story of what kids can do to each other," Vukovic said.

Another fully staged production, "The Darkson Chronicles" by MFA playwright Theo Goodell GS, is inspired by 1950s film noir and detective stories, said Kristan Seemel GS, director of the play and also part of the MFA program.

The story centers around Dan Darkson, a hardboiled, bowler-hat-wearing private eye who, at the behest of a client, investigates a man's disappearance. The scenes shift between Darkson and his adventures and a driver trying to keep awake while he travels during the night. As the play progresses, it is revealed that the driver is actually listening to a broadcast of a radio show titled "The Darkson Chronicles."

The production hilariously plays upon film-noir and radio show elements — the dark lighting and the dramatic characters —  and employs special effects and an interesting mix of pre-recorded and live sound.

The story is performed with a combination of narration and character dialogue. All actors, at one point or another, play Darkson. The rest of the characters include members of a religious cult, a mysterious female hitchhiker and a femme fatale who imprisons Darkson.

"The play was an incredibly collaborative effort," said Madeleine Lambert GS, an actor in the show, adding that the group as a whole contributed diverse ideas and material to the production.

For Seemel, the development of the production was very "fluid" and magical.

"The energy was just crackling all the time," he said.

And while the weeks of rehearsal were not without its challenges, Seemel said he felt they were part of the process. "I think frustration is good. Frustration is a part of working in a group because if it's hard, it probably means you're on to something."

Whether it was stories of a private eye, or the frightening adventures of two innocent children, there was something for everyone at "Writing is Live." 


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