‘Hashtagfour’ delivers array of student-run plays

The student-written play 'Working Title' was one of five plays presented in Cap & Bells' 'hashtagfour' performance last weekend. Arjun Kakkar/Photo Editor
The student-written play ‘Working Title’ was one of five plays presented in Cap & Bells’ ‘hashtagfour’ performance last weekend. Arjun Kakkar/Photo Editor

This past weekend, Cap & Bells brought hashtagfour to the ’62 Center’s Adams Memorial Theater. According to its Facebook event page, hashtagfour was “a night of original and published theatrical works ranging in length from 10 to 30 minutes … an invitation for the student body to get involved in a low-stress and collaborative process and, to put it simply, make art.”

Joseph Baca ’15, the show’s production director, somersaulted onto the stage, immediately setting the campiness in motion. He explained that the name “hashtagfour” was born of indecision. Cap & Bells hadn’t resolved what to do with its fourth slot in the ’62 Center for 2015-2016 before the group needed to put a name on it. With the Adams Memorial Theater reserved but no particular show planned, the ’62 Center banner that advertises the College’s theater and dance seasons would soon read “Cap and Bells #4.” Hashtagfour became a running joke within the theater community, and then the title for this collection of five theatrical pieces. The name, then, epitomized hashtagfour’s operating milieu: full of last-minute, student-driven improvisation and self-referential humor.

This is not to say, however, that all was in jest. Brilliant sophomore playwright Ariel Chu ’17 tackled racial prejudice, cultural erasure, the performative nature of identity and the violence of binaries in her play Hyphenate. Under the direction of Nico MacDougall ’17, actors Ayami Hatanaka ’18 and Maria Magidenko ’18 gave strong performances as Mei and May, the Japanese and American “halves” of a single young woman. Dressed identically, Hatanaka and Magidenko distinguished themselves through language and mannerisms. As Mei, Hatanaka toggled between a caricatured “Asian accent” in chopped English and fluid Japanese. Magidenko, meanwhile, played May with the vocal fry and posture of a “typical” American teenager. Playing on tropes – of the American dream, of the model minority and of the whiteness default – in order to subvert them, Hyphenate left the audience in quiet self-examination.

Next was a staged reading of Working Title, a social commentary written by Sarah Pier ’16 and Julia Hoch ’15. Hoch also directed the complicated story about what it means to be a working woman and the myth of “having it all.” Moving settings between law school, medical school, hospitals, residences, dinner parties and homes, the playwrights managed to maintain thematic consistency throughout. Six actors – Will Sager ’17, Apurva Tandon ’17, David Carter ’16, Yasmin Ruvalcaba ’17, Michael May ’17 and Sarah Pier ’16 – together played 22 different characters. While such constant character changes could occasionally be confusing, the actors portrayed well the impossibilities, contradictions, double standards and double binds of the work-family conflict.

Things took a turn with The Tale of the Old Mariner or How Dolores Learned to Read, written by Chu and Dan Brandes ’18. It is revealing to know the show begins and ends with an unnamed character walking across the stage carrying a pineapple and a machete, events that remain unexplained throughout the play. The audience was hungry for some silliness, and sympathized with the man in the audience who blurted “What?!” as he choked through laughter. Olivia Larsen ’17 as an innocent Dolores and Tatum Barnes ’15 as an upbeat Sonotelli were both hilarious. They worked well together and each owned their outlandish characters. Jonah Levy ’18 and Alessandra Edgar ’17, dressed as books, played suitably goofy supporting roles, chanting “Body as book, book as body.” While I suspect the story had something to offer about, perhaps, the body as a place of inscription, the pliability of self or, simply, the limits of THEA 360, any more precise message was lost on me. It was, after all, a celebration of absurdity for its own sake. Indeed, when the voice of narrator Mike Drucker ’17 boomed over the stage, asking, “That was deep, wasn’t it?” I didn’t know but didn’t care. I did, however, crave sliced fruit.

Then came Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema. Elena Faverio ’15 directed this intriguing and understated musical. The program description read simply that the show was “a ghost story for three bodies and three voices.” Jennifer Helinek ’15 had a dynamic and commanding stage presence in her portrayal of a burnt-out teenage mother. Natalie DiNenno ’18 played her neglected, sweet and crazed daughter. Sarah Ritzmann ’17 rounded out the ensemble, and all three sang beautifully. Even from behind music stands, the extraordinary talent of these three women – and their director – was unmistakable.

The last performance was Fill Out Your Future, written and directed by Matthew Conway ’15. It was a sweet, sad story of lost love and missed opportunity, unfolding at a small town’s high school reunion. Miranda Hanson ’17 and Gideon Hess ’16 were subtle as reconnecting friends Allison and Jack. They played the awkwardness and sexual tension of such an encounter convincingly. Even with the minimal set, the lighting of Nathaniel Perry ’17 managed to fill the space with nostalgia and hope. It was a fitting piece for Conway, the graduating artistic director of Cap & Bells, as he closed out the final show of his undergraduate career, reminding his audience of the fluidity of time and stability of moments.

Hashtagfour was, all in all, a delicious smorgasbord of student theater. It was a refreshing moment of diverse writing, artistic debauchery and unfettered creativity in a student body that so often takes itself too seriously.

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