Two Chairs and a Box

Something akin to channel surfing in a theater, “Two Chairs and a Box” took place at Adams Memorial Theater Studio last weekend. Six theater pieces were presented in the closed space within two hours on Friday and Saturday. This is the second semester that the Theater Department and Cap and Bells have put on the production. As another will be put on later this semester, it seems that it has been adopted as a regular avenue for student performance.

Every piece was a different director’s vision, a vision that had to operate within the limited confines: the actors were allowed two chairs, a box and a bare minimum of props. These parameters narrow the director’s palette and force him or her to focus tightly on the scene. The brief pieces tended to articulate a point and then move on, resulting in a rapid succession of impressions. With no common theme the audience member was happily thrown from world to world, an enjoyable evening.

Two of the directors, Matt Haldeman ’02 and Rolando Garcia ’02, presented their own works. Haldeman’s piece, “Theater Doesn’t Come With a Footnote,” began the evening. In it, three people are having trouble writing a play, and the audience listens in on their search for inspiration. Like Eric Powers’ play from last year, Haldeman’s twists the relationship between audience and actors, destroying the fourth wall. In the piece Haldeman also voices several opinions about the human condition and how that condition might be expressed.

The play featured many long silences during those times when the characters were trying to figure out how to progress with the play they were attempting to write. The ensemble of Andrew Schulte, Katie Rocker and Anna Kneitel experienced difficulty during these moments. The characters required emotional shifts that were difficult enough when they had dialogue and during the silence the focus was even more tenuous. As a result of this, they didn’t always seem quite sure what to do. On the bright side, each actor did establish a definite persona and a sympathetic figure.

“The Role of Della,” by John J. Wooten and directed by Elizabeth Healy, followed. This play, like the one before, rests on a sudden plot reversal – and a healthy amount of sadism – for much of its impact. Emily Glenn, in the role of Emma, the sadist, was suitably cruel but at times exaggerated her role. Her victim Elizabeth, played by Gillian Green, remained stoic in a particularly Shirley Temple-ish way throughout. She admirably portrayed a dog, among other animals, as well as the air-headed ingenue Elizabeth.

Jane Austen’s Victorianism came next, in the form of a Helene Jerome adaptation of an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice directed by Meredith Fruchtman. British-accented and Victorian-draped Elizabeth Bennett and Lady Catherine hiss, scoff and threaten each other over whether Ms. Bennett is going to marry eligible bachelor Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine’s nephew. Bennett, played by Dana Lea Nelson, articulated both saucy ridicule and bitter outrage. Allison Miller, who played Lady Catherine, also carried her role off well, acting as a very severe mix of outraged British fuddy-duddy and Frankenstein.

“Roosters,” adapted from a play by Milcha Sanchez-Scott and directed by Peter Munoz, presented an effective cast in a work that addressed some major issues. The program notes summarized the plot tersely: “A long absent father returns to his Latino family, prompting confusion, fiery conflict and humor.” Unlike any of the other pieces, “Roosters” progressed through different scenes, each putting a point to a specific facet of the family and the progression of its mother Juana, played by Adriana Woods.

The family also includes Angela, played by Mayda Del Valle, the fifteen-year-old daughter; Gallo, (Jose F. Fernandez), the deadbeat dad; Chata, (C.J. Tyson), Juana’s sensually absorbed friend; Adan, (Vasil Topuzov), a houseguest with English problems; and Hector, (Tomas Baez Jr.), the son, who fights to keep everyone, particularly his mother, free from disillusion. All the performances were done well: Topuzov managed a wonderful nuttiness, Del Valle alternated well between outraged idealism and careless worldliness and Tyson oozed earthy goodness. Woods captured Juana’s emotional rollercoaster. Baez delivered an excellent performance, shifting from son to rebel, alternating between righteous and mocking.

Next came suburban bedlam: “Naomi In the Living Room,” written by Christopher Durang and directed by Karen Lichtman. A psychopathic mother, visited by her bland son and wife, wreaks havoc on the young couple. The piece is well written, playing outrageously on themes of subverted Americana. As the wacko mother Naomi, Elisa Bellar is quite kooky, if sometimes a wee bit forced. John Martino, who plays the son John, does well as a bland drone, and by the end of the play adds some more mischief and a dress to liven up his character. Eileen Bevis, as wife Johnna, blows life into the suburban mouse woman and when wackiness strikes, carries it naturally. All in all, a fine performance.

The final play, “Second Wind,” was, like the first, entirely a student affair. Written and directed by Rolando Garcia, the play follows two lovelorn barflies lamenting the one that got away and, in doing so, plays with the age-old cliché that “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The characters discuss their issues as they try to drown their sorrows with the aid of their taciturn bartender. All three actors, Peter Van Steemburg and Alexander Lavy as the rejected, and Robert Zalkind as the bartender, delivered great performances. Zalkind in particular handled his comic lines with timing and panache; his performance played a large part in the audience’s positive reaction to the piece.

The six plays were a fun two hours. Hopefully “Two Chairs and a Box” will continue as a platform to allow students to figure how and what they want to say on the stage.