One-Act Theater Festival offers plays for range of palates

The Cap and Bells production of the One Act Theatre Festival, a unique selection of four one-act plays directed and performed by Williams students, opens to general audiences tomorrow. The Festival, cancelled last year due to Cap and Bells’ heavy schedule, is a long-standing tradition and an essential part of Williams theater.

Run by the oldest student-driven theater organization in the country, the Festival represents only a portion of the great productions that have historically allowed students to explore various aspects of the performing arts. This year, Caps and Bells’ new repertoire includes King Lear, a humorous night of Chekhov and senior Owen Martel’s original work Given.

The four one-acts scheduled for production this year include Williams alumnus A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, directed by Michelle Rodriguez ’12, David Mamet’s Duck Variations, directed by Eric Phillips ’09, and Christopher Durang’s An Actor’s Nightmare, directed by Ben Kaplan ’11, as well as an adaptation of the children’s story The Snow Queen, directed by Alison Pincus ’12. The directors chose a diverse selection of plays, ranging from Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated melancolic drama to Durang’s 1980s comedy about an accountant’s bad dream. Margot Robinson ’12, who plays Melissa Gardener in Love Letters, describes the play as “a different type of theater. It’s very raw.”

Rodriguez’s directorial debut in Love Letters recounts the story of two principal characters who read to each other the correspondences that have marked their separated lives. Themes – ranging from dealing with disappointment to the distinction between victory and defeat – serve as connecting devices in a performance that ultimately ends in moving tragedy. Rodriguez attributes the early successes of the show to the open-ended support that Cap and Bells offers. “I’m a freshman, and I’ve never directed anything before,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to learn … and jumping in sounded like the best way to do it. The One Act
Festival allows me to do something I’ve never done before in a supportive environment.”

Becky Eakins ’12, who plays Gerta in The Snow Queen, describes the experience as “theater at 80 miles per hour.” This is Eakins’ first time acting in a Williams play and her first time as the lead. The narrative she commands follows a path similar to the story of Gerta originally outlined by Hans Christian Anderson, in which two young children, Kai and Gerta, become playmates and eventually fall in love. Kai is unfortunately stolen away by the snow queen. Gerta, then, must embark on a perilous journey to rescue and return her childhood friend.

Durang’s 1980s comedy, on the other hand, follows a different kind of storyline. An Actor’s Nightmare is a one act that details a certain George Spelvin, an accountant who randomly finds himself an understudy in a play he doesn’t know. Confusion amasses as he is forced to recite soliloquies from Hamlet and Sir Thomas More’s A Man for All Seasons. Inspired by Durang’s nightmares about forgetting lines and stage directions, the play was first performed in 1981 as a companion piece to the playwright’s award-winning work, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.

Mamet’s 1970s thought-provoking Duck Variations rounds out the selection as a short and simple piece that uses metaphor as its driving force. “The Duck Variations is a very simple play: one bench, two men, sitting at a park, looking out over a lake, engaged in timeless chatter. It’s Mamet at his most subtle and understated,” said Phillips. Discussions between the characters eventually reveal insights into subjects such leadership, amity, and ultimately death.

With such gifted actors and interesting plays, this year’s festival should not be missed. Audience-goers are sure to find something appealing in the range of talent and subjects. The Festival will run from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24 at the Adams Memorial Theatre.