Students get cultured at ‘Petri Dish’

Saturday night in Perry Goat Room looked like something out of a movie or perhaps a bygone era at the College: toga-clad actors walked in and out, and the room was buzzing with expectant students.
The students weren’t there for keg stands or a ritual sacrifice, however, but for the first ever “Petri Dish,” organized by Williams Immediate Theatre. The event aimed to combine original student theater, music and artwork in a self-described “smorgasbord” of short pieces, including monologues, play readings, original songs and spoken word poetry.

There was a friendly, easy-going atmosphere discernable just by looking around the room. Students were sipping some soda here and there or sitting comfortably on the floor when all the seats had already been taken. The casual gathering made the event different from a formal theater performance. Lacking the pressure and tension characteristic of a more official play, the Petri Dish allowed students, performers and spectators to relax and enjoy fully.

Michelle Rodriguez ’12 started the night out with a stunning performance of the song “Grief” from the original musical that she is currently writing, So Far, Cecile. Accompanied by Eric Kang ’09 on piano, the poignancy of the eponymous character’s mourning of her recently deceased husband deeply touched those present. The actors and singers readily adapted to the unique setting offered by Perry and even stood on tables at climactic moments, as did Casey York ’10 during her performance of “Float” from the musical The Flood by Peter Mills, also accompanied by Kang.

Three larger pieces were also presented, including an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and readings of two original student works, Hopplöshet: A Scandanavian Dread Play by Julian Mesri ’09 and Pointing Fingers by York.

The shortened Caesar, coordinated by Matthew Piltch ’12, who also appeared as Mark Antony, used the unique concept of featuring only the most notable monologues from the play. Stirring renditions of these great speeches were delivered by Mesri as Cassius and Noah Schechter ’12 as Brutus, and followed by a hilarious original song on ukulele about Caesar’s demise, “Eulogy for Caesar,” also by Rodriguez.

Mesri’s piece was a hilarious parody of Scandinavian dread plays – the title means “hopelessness” in Swedish – with characters that constantly lament their tragic, horrible lives that are in fact merely mundane. Their chief complaints of feeling cold and sick and imminent death are satirized by the melodrama of their behavior and thus won big laughs with its twisted dark humor and absurdity, aided by strong comedic performances by Mesri, Rodriguez, Schechter, George Carstocea ’10, Meghan Rose Donnelly ’11 and Michaela Morton ’12.

The reading of York’s original play, Pointing Fingers, the story of a man accused of terrorism for shining a laser pointer at a plane while stargazing, was especially intriguing as the play is still in the process of being written. It was certainly fascinating to be able to see the creative process behind theater and how it develops into a fully-fledged play, a chance you wouldn’t normally get somewhere else. “There were some parts from the play that felt a bit long. It was really helpful to hear it out loud,” York said. Each of the actors in the reading entertainingly portrayed multiple roles with shifting accents and demeanors, including Ralph Morrison ’10, Lydia Barnett-Mulligan ’10, Caitlin Eley ’10, Nathaniel Basch-Gould ’11, Juliana Stone ’12, Carstocea and Rodriguez.

Some actors sneaked a peek at their lines as they performed, but these glimpses hardly detracted from the performance. The point was that they were up there, on stage, sharing their particular interests with an audience open to all forms of art. Barnett-Mulligan used her Petri Dish time to read an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, while members of spoken word poetry group SpeakFree also performed some of their work. Black-and-white artwork by Ashley Carrera ’10 and photographs by Carstocea decorated the walls, adding visual aesthetics to the already artistically pleasing event.

Two other hilarious solo acts were given by Nathaniel Basch-Gould ’11, who performed an original monologue about life in a utopian biodome of the future, and Schechter who performed “The Fan,” a monologue by Eric Bogosian from his one-man show Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead that follows the mood swings of an obsessive fan torn between admiration and jealousy for his idol.

The first Petri Dish was certainly successful, and was an inspiring look at the product of this small group of very dedicated and very talented students as they gave excellent performances in piece after piece. The group looks forward to putting on at least two or three Petri Dishes a semester as well as continuing to produce longer works. Without a doubt, keep an eye out for the members of Immediate Theatre as they keep creating and performing their own work any time, any place.

Additional reporting by Sara Harris, Arts Editor.