By Sophie Howie.
Photos by Shelby Pennington
As the dimming lights silence the talkative crowd seated throughout Studio One, a voice welcomes the audience, gives a lengthy thank you to all the sponsors that helped fund the One Act Festival, and introduces the two individuals who made the night possible. Once the footsteps in the dark still, a burning spotlight settles on the figures of junior Will DeVary and senior Sarah Denison. Together, they provide a general overview of the evening, briefly describing their shows and the actors associated with each, and giving thanks to a handful of contributors. On January 27, 28, and 29, these young directors showcased their skills in directing their own productions of The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder and White Lies by Richard James.
The first performance was White Lies, directed by Denison. This play told the humorous story of a reunion gone wrong, recounting the prior thirty years of an unaccomplished mother, a grieving playwright, a well-meaning felon, and a gold digger with no filter. As the clock ticks, old university friends begin remembering some forgotten personality traits, practical jokes, and white lies that would make their meeting anything but ordinary.
I found each character vibrant and amusing in her own way. As the play progressed, the secrets revealed and the moments remembered pulled the plot from one direction to another, surprising the audience with each new finding. The execution of the script was spectacular in its own right. The actresses themselves brought their characters alive with wonderful diction, energy, and a slap across the face that you could hear clearly from the back row. Each cast member’s dedication to their role was excellent, and it was easy to see that a good deal of hard work went into the production.
Right off the bat, I noticed sophomore Elizabeth Hallal’s character first. She played the perfect waitress, frustrated with problem customers but grumbling through another day’s work, sometimes audibly, which gave the audience a good laugh. Sophomore Haley Sieg gave a very convincing performance of Bea, the designer-dressed woman married to a man she hates but a wallet she loves. Her needy attitude of immediate gratification was what truly moved the story along, and I thought that Sieg carried out that integral part perfectly. Sieg’s character was prideful and proper, but annoyingly so in a way that made me feel the audience’s mutual aggravation with every boastful comment she made. Ruth seemed to be the most down-to-Earth character, so Olivia Kelley clearly did a fantastic job bringing Ruth’s personality onstage. Kelley carried Ruth’s character with poise, respect, and a good head on her shoulders, which was a perfect reflection of who the character was supposed to be.
The last two women to arrive at the table were Judith, a writer who lost the only person she truly loved and grew up alone, and Pam, a woman torn between bad decisions and good reasons. Those roles were played by Sydney Walters and Hannah Nunn, respectively. Walters’ character had a reserved and slightly unnerved aura about her, which makes perfect sense considering Judith’s backstory and commentary from the others. Nunn’s character was straightforward and genuine, and she held herself with dignity despite her jail time. All the actors did a wonderful job bringing their characters to life, and it certainly proved Denison’s talent in directing.
After Denison’s production concluded and the curtain was drawn, they called intermission where the audience was free to walk around and get concessions. Almost immediately after intermission began, I was hearing eager voices praising the first play. From the laughter during and after the performance, it’s safe to say that White Lies was a big hit with the audience. After intermission, everyone returned to their seats and the curtain reopened for quite a different show.
Long Christmas Dinner, in both a literal and figurative sense, hung the moon. Despite its similarity to Denison’s production with its theme that passing of time changes things, it brings a completely different plot and a much darker tone. The grim story began in quite a nice setting, although there was an unsettling feeling behind the celebration that somewhat hinted that it would only get worse from there. How DeVary intermingled the sound, lighting, and staging to create something so quaint yet subtly grim, I will never know.
The play told the story of a number of generations in the Bayard family as they celebrated Christmas each year at the dinner table, with some new faces and some missing ones. It pulled together themes of how the passing of time seems quicker to some people than to others, how tragedy affects loving families, and how beautiful things can bring along terrible reminders. Repeated phrases specific to each character, such as mentions about the sermon or the weather, helps their ambitions and values become easier to pinpoint and their deaths easier to anticipate.
His choice of actors was spot-on, and each person carried out their role effortlessly. Without speaking a word, the nurse’s eerie appearance created a script of its own. Junior Jordan Burger and sophomore Mikayluh Bowers, playing Roderick and Lucia Bayard, were true to their roles as parents, guiding their children and modeling maturity and tradition. Junior Bryson Barbee’s character, Brandon, had a cheery and kind-hearted personality which Barbee brought out in only a few lines.
The first children at the table, played by senior Aubrey Spencer and Noah Hankins, had a very genuine adoration and respect for their parents that seemed to strengthen the bond that would prove to be tested by death, but not broken by it, later in the play. Junior Allie Lincoln successfully executed her role as a convincing wife and mother, with optimistic spirits that would be crushed after a tragedy of her own. Sam and Lucia were charming characters and brought a new generation for the audience to get attached to, and then let go along with the remaining cast members. Cousin Ermengarde, played by freshman Emily North, was a sweet and sentimental character who seemed to hold on to the last pieces of the family near the end. All in all, the talented cast’s skills made for a truly moving performance.
DeVary put a lot of thought into the details of his production, saying that he wanted the symbols to stand on their own without definitive meanings so that the audience members could create their own ideas of what was meant. Of course, he had his own personal view of the deeper meanings that Wilder created.
“The family finds itself trapped in this cyclical existence in which there seems to be no intrinsic meaning or purpose as the family obsessed with their material existence,” said DeVary. “However, the one thing that seems to transcend this is love, and those who embrace and hold on to love for one another and for themselves are the only ones who seem at peace with the whole cycle of life.”
Whenever a character passed away, they would exit house left, stage right. Even as they became ill, the characters would subtly walk towards that direction before turning back around, which I noticed made the audience a bit nervous. One thing I can say for certain, besides my praise for the cast’s dedication to their roles and the action of a script that tugged at everyone’s heartstrings, is the fact that I have never seen a play that made me so concerned for whether the cast members exited right or left.
Both performances were stellar in their execution from script to stage. I commend Denison and DeVary for all the work that truly paid off during each performance. It was fascinating to see the amazing talent showcased once again by the FC theatre department, and if they can keep up the good work I witnessed on Saturday, it’s sure to be an amazing remainder of the season. If you had the opportunity to see the One Act Festival, plan on seeing My Fair Lady this March. There’s no doubt in my mind that the outstanding actors, actresses, and technical crew members will continue to captivate the audience like always.