Variety proved to be the overall theme at the 2005 University of La Verne Directing Studio One Act Festival. Student and faculty directors, designers and actors participated in the plays, which ranged from physical comedy to intense drama, as well as everything in between.
The festival took place on May 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15 in Dailey Theatre and the Cabaret Theatre, where three-to-seven one act plays were performed each night.
Each of the directors and set designers had a month or so to prepare for the event, which included casting, designing and rehearsing.
“I believe the directing projects are important because it allows the creativity and ideas of the directors to come through a piece of art they connect with,” said student director Rhiannon Cuddy, who directed “Words, Words, Words” by David Ives on May 10 and May 12. “It also allows the directors and all others involved to grow as people, to learn from mistakes and to appreciate the collaboration and hard work that it takes to put a show together. It also brings all kinds of people together to have a great time.”
On May 13, an impressive-sized crowd filled the theatres to see five of the one-act plays.
First on the Friday bill was “Voices in the Dark” by Scott DoVale. The play, directed by Kristin Van Tilburg, dealt with the issues of depression and suicide.
Daniel Roxburgh played Max, a young man coping with the loss of his older brother, a struggling artist named Eddie, played by Keith Watabayashi.
Through intimate monologues and flashback scenes, the audience was on a personal level with the main characters of the play.
“Voices in the Dark” was set in Max and Eddie’s California apartment, which was designed by Trisha McCormmick. In addition, artwork was hung throughout the Cabaret Theatre, created by Van Tilburg, James Crowell and Alicia Gutierrez.
Van Tilburg was familiar with “Voices in the Dark” because her high school English teacher, DoVale, wrote and performed the piece as a one-man show when he was 26.
“I chose ‘Voices in the Dark’ because I thought it would be interesting to take what was normally a one man show and make it into a five character show,” Van Tilburg said. “I also love the words and the message it had.”
Van Tilburg was pleased with the outcome of “Voices in the Dark.”
“I was very proud of the way my production turned out,” Van Tilburg said. “There something about enjoying something so much and working so hard on it, that the small frustrations and long hours don't seem even hinder any of the love I have for the theatre, and I am sure the other students feel the same way.”
The audience was then whirled off to the Dailey Theatre for the next two one-acts, “Breakdown” by Phillip Powers and “Railing it Uptown” by Shirley Lauro.
The two plays shared the impressive set, which looked as if set designer Tanya Wilkins took a New York City subway car and directly transported it to the Dailey Theatre. The set looked, moved and sounded so believable that the audience felt as if they were underground watching the everyday actions of people living in the city.
In “Breakdown,” directed by Zach Johnson, an uptight, workaholic business man (played by John Dandoy) crosses paths with a homeless traveler (played by Nathan Lahr). Lahr’s eccentric and offbeat character dissects the businessman’s superficial lifestyle, and the businessman realizes between subway stops that he may not be as happy as he thought.
Similarly, opposites interact in
“Railing it Uptown,” directed by Samantha Chung.
Siddeeqah Shabazz played an average woman going home after a long day of shopping and Stephanie Barraco plays an unpredictable subway passenger.
Shabazz’s reserved character is alarmed by the brash, energetic presence of Barraco’s character and the two go from typical, public transportation small talk to a frightening argument to understanding each other, all within a matter of a 10-to-15 minute subway ride.
“I really liked it,” freshman Amanda Stapleton said after seeing “Breakdown” and “Railing it Uptown.”
“I think more students should take advantage of this and what the theater department has to offer,” she said.
The audience was then guided to the Cabaret Theatre, where two men stood face to face with a light shining over them.
One of the men, played by Dustin Coffey, was in business attire with his hair slicked back, while the other, played by Micah Papalia, was badly disheveled and bruised.
This was the scene of the fourth play of the evening, “One for the Road,” directed by Christopher Smith.
The play was written by Harold Pinter in 1984 to address the Turkish government’s use of torture on its country’s prisoners.
“Research taught him that, in addition to Turkey, there were a total of 90 reported countries that practiced torture on prisoners,” Smith said. “Now that number has jumped to about 130 reported countries worldwide. It was scary for me to see that over the course of my life, that number has risen instead of fallen.”
Smith chose this short play because it portrayed the “true ugliness of torture.”
“It is not a government abusing people, it is people abusing people,” Smith said. “We do it to each other, and we do it everyday, all over the world. This was a problem I thought deserved to be addressed.”
“I really thought the actors did a good job,” said spectator John Flores. “It was a little confusing at first, but overall I really liked it.”
The mood in the Cabaret Theatre shifted from intense drama to comedy for the fifth play, “The Book of Leviticus Show,” by Christopher Durang.
Anthony Guerrero directed this crowd favorite, which was his last directing project at ULV.
“The Book of Leviticus Show” was a West Virginia public access show directed, produced and starring people who read and understood the Bible in the most literal of senses.
Melody Rahbari convincingly played Lettie Lu, with a thick Southern accent, her hair in braids and a mismatched outfit, complete with flowered-print stretch pants circa “Saved by the Bell.”
Anthony DiBenedetto played Tommy, the “cameraman” for the show and Tanya Wilkins played the bedridden grandma.
A creative touch to the production was that the actual camera work of Tommy could be seen on a huge video screen, which was the backdrop of the set.
The last play of the night, “Even Beyond Poetry,” was adapted from Elizabeth Pietrzak’s collection of poems. The director of the play, Associate Professor of English Kirsten Ogden, worked closely with Pietrzak to develop the project.
“My first goal was to honor the words of Beth (Pietrzak) and to capture the spirit of her poems,” Ogden said. “My second goal was to convey the emotional and physical feelings to the audience that a reader of Beth's poems might feel if they had the poems in their hands. I also wanted to explore a non-narrative performance and use collaborative, feminist theater principles to compose the piece with a group of diverse women.”
The female cast of nine members, including Associate Professor of Theater Arts Jane Dibbell, not only recited Pietrzak’s words, but also used song and dance, with streamers and banners, to convey her message.
Pietrzak was once a student of both Ogden and Dibbell, and she is currently the theater manager at the University.
“I really like how they put everything together, along with the visuals that go with it,” said freshman Ashley Beck.
Overall, festival participants and audience members were pleased with the event as a whole and hope that more ULV students will support the theater department’s endeavors.
“This festival gives many students the opportunity to participate in a play; both onstage and off,” Smith said. “And, because of the increased number of students involved, word of mouth brings a more student-filled audience. It is the hope of the department that this exposure will bring the audience to future shows. Sometimes it has worked. It is also a way for students to learn all aspects of performance: directing, acting, design, publicity, etc. The students gain a wonderful ability to work with colleagues through this experience, and this ability prepares the student for life in the future.”
Tracy Spicer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.