24-hour play festival elicits laughs

Wilfred Guerron ’17 and Molly Murphy ’19 star in “Wow, Puberty. Nice,” a raw coming of age story.
Wilfred Guerron ’17 and Molly Murphy ’19 star in “Wow, Puberty. Nice,” a raw coming of age story. Photo courtesy of Nico MacDougal.

What can the average Williams student accomplish in 24 hours? Typical answers might include a day of classes, practice and perhaps more pages of a paper than we would like to admit. But on Saturday, Jan. 9, groups of student actors, directors and writers gathered in Goodrich Hall at 7 p.m. to present seven short plays they had created from scratch the evening before.

The show was the culmination of the eighth annual 24-Hour Play Festival, put on by Cap & Bells. Given that most student theater productions at the College are only performed after several weeks’ worth of time-consuming rehearsal, the immediacy of the Festival allows student creativity to abound in its rawest and zaniest of forms. The plays left the audience enthralled, confused and breathless from laughter all at once.

The Festival started with an informational meeting in Spencer Library at 8 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 8, open to students of all class years and levels of theater experience. Groups of writers and directors were formed and various theatrical genres were drawn out of a hat in order to provide the playwrights with guidelines. The writers were given until 8 a.m. on Jan. 9 to write their plays, which were then turned over to the director and actors.

Once the guidelines were established, the question remained: How do you write a play from scratch in 24 hours that will keep an audience engaged for 10 minutes? For many of the playwrights, the answer was to make it weird and funny – every play, regardless of its genre, had the audience laughing out loud.

“There’s a point when you’re writing when you become just delirious enough that you think anything you write is hilarious. And I think that if you believe it, the audience will believe it,” said Kimmy Golding ’16, who emceed the event.

“The Love Song of J. Roberta Oppenheimer,” written by Dan Brandes ’18 and Jack Scaletta ’18, opened the show with the tale of a theoretical physicist (Emma Mandel ’19) caught in a love triangle with her boyfriend and a radioactive compound she created, played by director Rachel Waldman ’17. Combining historical fiction with an unlikely romance, the show elicited laughs with lewd references and its allusions to the Manhattan Project.

The highlight of the night had to be “The Space Western Musical,” written by Sarah Pier ’16 and Lauren Christiansen ’16 and directed by Alex Paseltiner ’16. It drew laughs from the very first line uttered by Michael Rubel ’19, whose gritty Western accent made him the perfect parody of a space cowboy. Sophia Wilansky ’16 played the part of Twist, the lovesick robot who self-destructed to keep herself from exploding and destroying the universe. To top it off, the songs were cleverly written over the instrumentals of Kanye West songs, augmented by actor Spencer McCarrey’s ’17 voice.

The final show, “Unbearable: A Legal Thriller,” rooted its humor in a series of puns that were fired off nonstop throughout the play. Written by Joseph Baca ’15, David Rosas ’16, Alice Murphy ’16 and Chris Owyang ’16, and directed by Hefferon, the show was infused with so many whacky double entendres that the play would have ceased to exist without them. Caroline Atwood ’16 played a fierce bear-turned-prosecutor, bent on solving the mystery of a “grizzly” murder. Isy Hanson ’16 played a perpetually hungry judge, and Swiss rounded out the trio as a shady defense attorney, further distracting from the main plot by rattling off zingers like, “Woman-slaughter… and woman’s laughter are spelt the same way!” with such conviction that the other characters had to wait for the laughter to die down to recite their next lines.

This year marked an important one for the Festival, both in terms of its participation and popularity. “I think this was our largest crowd to date,” said Golding proudly. “I think it’s just the prospect of the audience knowing that people had 24 hours to write this thing, and it’s so interesting and weird.” The plays showcased students’ capacity to create in the midst of the chaos of the unexpected, kicking off Cap & Bells’ spring 2016 season with a bang.

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