Directing talent galore

Last weekend, the fourth Two Chairs and a Box gave five directors the opportunity to debut their talents on the Williams campus. This new forum, started as a tradition by the Cap and Bells board during the spring semester of 1999, gives directors with little experience an opportunity to experiment and try their hands at directing in a relaxed environment.

The performance felt very much like new directors spreading their wings, and I am glad that it felt that way. Obviously, the performance wasn’t perfect; but it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, if it had been too pristine, I would have felt that the spirit of Two Chairs had been violated. These directors truly seized the opportunity afforded them, and I commend them for their bravery.

Eric Katerman ’02 approached the script of The Philadelphia by David Ives from a charmingly playful perspective. The play is a complicated tangle of humor about different states of being; Eric went for the meat of the script, declining the use of props or complicated lighting so that the audience was forced to appreciate the interactions of the characters. At times, I thought that the emotions expressed by the actors were slightly over the top, such as at the end of the play when the character Al, played by Eric Woodward ’04, threw down his chair in anger. In general, though, the piece was a very tight, playful interpretation of an interesting script.

Karen Lichtman’s ’02 interpretation of three Edgar Allan Poe poems, including “The Raven,” “The Conqueror Worm” and “Annabel Lee,” was an extremely experimental and interesting evocation of the feeling of the poems through movement, lightning and interactions, in the tradition of Trojan Women last year. I was very impressed by the high degree of coordination evident in the production; every motion and sound seemed to have been thought through and intended to support her interpretation of the poems. At certain points, I thought that the poems had been misinterpreted, as was the case, when the Poe character, depicted as a raven and played by Colby Chamberlain ’04, followed on the tail of his wife’s ghost, fluttered into the room and smiled. Even so, I was impressed with the scene Lichtman set and the courageous experimentation of the piece.

Banks, Steaks, and Letters: (What we STILL do when we’re in love.), written and directed by Jen Lazar ’04, dealt with a very complicated scenario between interesting, lively characters. I got the impression, though, that the play was too complicated for the 15-minute slot. A discussion of the love relationships and friendships of three people is a large undertaking for a short piece; I wanted more clarity. However, Lazar managed to create an evocative dynamic between the three characters onstage. Their relationships with each other and with the women they loved intrigued me; I would have loved to see it go further, to see more of these compelling characters.

Death, Sex and Swordfights, written by Nick Bennett and directed by Jon Herz ’04, struck me similarly as too complicated for a short piece, but with the potential to become something very interesting if extended. The play was an experimentation in metatheater, discussing the complicated themes of play vs. reality and of complex personal interactions. At times, I found myself confused and kind of lost by the script, but the overall impression I gleaned from the piece was that it has a lot of potential and that it embodies very difficult and complex ideas that will be something very compelling when more tightly constructed.

The last play of the set, 6 in the Rain, written by Derek Walcott and directed by Sharifa Wright ’03, created a dark scene of tension and fear. I felt, though, that what we saw was a piece of a larger play, which perhaps it was. Sometimes I was confused as to how the characters knew each other, what the tensions between them were, and what were the individual aspects of their characters. For example, the character Sonson, played by Josh Ain ’03, was nearly dropped from the script, complicating the already difficult part for the actor. If we had known more, I think that the arrival of the witch and the revelation of her identity would strike us as even more foreboding. Even so, I think that the scene would be a very effective beginning of something. It certainly grabbed my attention; I wanted to stick around and learn the dark confessions that these characters would give. The director created for us the intensity of such a highly emotional scene.

I was pleased to see how each of these directors took advantage of this relaxed, supportive environment for experimentation. True, the lighting could have been better-coordinated with the positions of the actors, and there were some gaps in plot development and some inconsistencies of character. However, these imperfections hold little import. Each director showed that he or she has raw talent and the bravery to do something exceptional with it. I’m excited to see what these artists generate in the future here at Williams, and beyond.