REVIEW: An Evening of One-Acts

An Evening of One-Acts provided a dark look at humanity through two very different pieces (photo courtesy of Mason Players/Ruthie Rado).
An Evening of One-Acts provided a dark look at humanity through two very different pieces (photo courtesy of Mason Players/Ruthie Rado).

Mason Players host their first one-act showcase with shows that cast ominous shadows on the human condition.

There are very few opportunities for students see a one act play. Until very recently, Mason had yet to find a way to produce shorter work that exceeded ten minutes but fell short of a full 90 minute play.

The “Evening of One-Acts” hosted by Mason Players from Nov. 21-24 finally gave students the chance to see two established one-act plays. As previous studio shows have been, these plays were directed, acted and designed by students.

The first play of the evening was “Women and Wallace,” written by Jonathan Marc Sherman and directed by Casey Bauer. The play was essentially the theatrical Bildungsroman of a young man named Wallace whose mother kills herself early on in the play. It is a moment that perpetuates his maelstrom of teenage-to-adult mistakes, woes and pains -specifically instances regarding women.

The writing was really difficult to engage with, and also seemed too long to really be considered a one act for this type of event. There were very few real moments within the play.  A clearer sense of direction may have helped ease the awkwardness of the text. It was easy to tell when the director particularly liked a scene, for its purpose was clear and often executed with some relish by the actors. In the less-favored scenes, the mood felt like the actors were performing blind -complete with awkward, unintentional silences and unfulfilled moments.

There were certainly enjoyable aspects to this performance. Wallace (Ben Ribler, freshman) had great comedic timing. His best work was done in the college years -when Wallace loses his virginity in an awkward sex scene and the lights were, thankfully, turned off.  Another notable performance was Sarah (Christine Huff, junior) -the valedictorian of the class who was wise in words but naïve in love. Huff’s portrayal of the insecure yet strangely confident young woman was heartbreaking in a lovely, refreshing way.

Other than the horrifying dream sequence that had most of the audience squirming in their seats and praying for the end, the rest of the cast was also commendable in the attempt to make this play of clichés and latent misogyny bearable.

One thing that was most surprising, however, was how almost seamlessly “Women in Wallace” transitioned to “Woyzeck,” written by Georg Büchner, directed by Rebecca Wahls.

 Both plays conveyed a similar story: a man, questionably sane, and his dealings with women. Wallace labels women as “deserters,” Woyzeck kills them.

To be fair, he really just kills one woman: his wife. “Woyzeck,” based on a true murder trial, is an unfinished, weirdly babbling piece.

Wahls made a valiant attempt to make this pile of confusing text into something resembling a play. Although the use of projections did little to help establish where the play was, something that a physical set could have helped, the choreography of the play was gorgeous. The play, perhaps, was not something that could easily be followed, but the movement of the piece certainly transported the audience beyond the theater.

Woyzeck was played by Maggie Rodgers (sophomore). Wahls visualized Woyzeck as a woman trapped in a man’s body.  To display this idea to the audience clearly, she cast a woman in the typically male role. The result was surprising.  Although by the very feminine tone of Rodgers’s voice the audience knew the character was female, it was very easy to forget that the actor was actually a woman. She moved with a male physicality, and we were so enraptured by Woyzeck’s bizarre personality that her gender was almost secondary to the turmoil bubbling within the play.

The entirety of the cast worked brilliantly as an ensemble. Some highlight performances include Marie (Halah Zenhom, senior), Doctor (Zach Wilcox, junior), Captain (Justin Hashagen, sophomore), and Showman (Alex Galloway, junior). These four actors were especially able to translate the confusing work into something relatable to the audience.

Special notice goes to Alec Henneberger, light and sound designer for the show, who produced two totally different works to give each play the appropriate atmosphere they needed.

The first play consisted of Wallace’s life in brief slices, the lighting reflected that with spots that contained each scene. The music was soft and reminiscent, with pieces that reflected both the work and the time that this piece was written in.

Woyzeck’s world was a nightmare that only changed in hue but never in intensity. Henneberger doused the stage in light, and even in the darkest moments, the entire scene played before the audience in full view. Woyzeck’s lighting scheme exposed the actors to the audience with all of their flaws, while Wallace’s lights only accentuated the moments the playwright and director wanted the audience to see.

The music of Woyzeck was haunting and as yearning as the main character was throughout the entirety of the piece, growing exponentially direr as it went on.

It was a long evening of two one-act plays, but hopefully not the last. Providing Mason students a new type of theatre, which is propelled into action by a shorter time frame, adds an exciting twist to the Mason Players season that the heart-wrenching two to three act tragedies simply cannot provide.

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