Bwog reviews the latest offering from LateNite Theatre. Remaining performances include one TONIGHT at 11 p.m, and two tomorrow night at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Opportunities for Columbia students to direct, produce and perform in plays abound.  But opportunities for student playwrights, however, by and large are limited to the Varsity Show, XMAS! and LateNite.  Although opening night of the LateNite fall play anthology reflected the talent of many of Columbia’s playwrights, many of the plays admittedly lacked innovation.  The stronger plays drew off familiar stories and situations, while the weaker, if more innovative, ones came off as unstructured and in the end unsatisfying.  That said, the majority of the performances were highly entertaining and the two-hour run time passed quickly.

The strongest aspect of the opening play, Inside Voices, was its relatively novel premise.  Although playwright Samantha Kuperberg gave her play an often-used setting, a high school math class, she wrote a script in which the characters spoke the subtext of their lines instead of using conversational language.  The trope, however, did not lend itself to the development of a plot, let alone a purpose. The play was essentially a series of choppy cuts between the interior dialogue of the teacher and the different students.  Nonetheless her characterization of the students was endearing, if a bit conventional. Michael Snyder, aptly playing a teenage heartthrob, and Allie Paddock, as an equal apt boy-craze babe, brought an adorable appeal to their parts, which made their brief interaction the highlight of the play. Kuperberg did an admirable job directing her cast, but the basic set-up of the play seems better suited for an acting class than for a one-act play.

The second play of the evening, Shit Happens written by Joshua Szymanowski, could easily have been an improv comedy piece.  An unsuccessful improv piece.  Like bad improv, Shit Happens relied on foreign accents, overacted gunfights and swearing for its comedic value.  Although Szymanoeski countered as an excellent deadpan straight man to the wildly implausible, albeit intentionally so, caricatures of his cast, the title of his play unfortunately sums up its overall effect.

Death Dot Com, written by Rebecca Spalding, relied on similar caricatures, thickly laid-on accents and general overacting.  That said, Spalding’s satire had an innovative premise and progressed well.  The scene centered around two smarmy consultants attempting to convince a celebrity that overdose and suicide ala Kurt Cobain, and Judy Garland was a surefire way to guarantee enduring fame and infamy.  The idea was perfectly suited for a black comedy, but the performance opted for conventional humor over wit or sarcasm.

The final play of the first act, TA:Boo, a musical written by Rachel Leopold and Charlotte Freinberg and composed by Paul Rodgers, however, was all about sarcasm.  To the audience’s delight, TA:Boo told the all too familiar tale of the Columbia community’s many frustrations – primarily of the sexual and curricular kind.  Basically, a TA, a wonderfully prudish Michael Snyder, needs a lay and a student, an all-too righteous Eva Peskin, needs an A – excuse the rhyme.  With a cast of campus regulars, including Michael Molina as an unexpectedly foppish absentminded professor and Sarah Dooley as the raunchy roommate from hell, the performance rotated gracefully between sharp dialogue and even sharper songs.  TA:Boo admittedly drew off of Varsity Show alums for its acting team and many of the numbers perfectly matched the V-Show’s knack for refreshing humor and oddly sweet Columbia  spirit.

Phil Primason’s Nude Scene, however, was undoubtedly the most memorable performance of the night. There’s no surprise here; the play is all about nudity. Although the stage does not always lend itself to telephone conversations, Primason rendered a highly entertaining, at times even fraught, telephone interaction between Andy, a type -A neat-freak played by Jonathan Kaplan, and Stu, a way too laid back bro played by Michael Molina in all his naked glory.  Despite the flagrancy – and shock value – of its premise and humor, Nude Scene offered a definite sit-com appeal with a just the right balance of content and absurdity for a ten minute scene.

The final play of the evening, Jacob Rice’s Poor Players offered the most developed performance of the evening.   With accuracy and candor only attainable through experience, Rice documented the highs and lows of high school theater in Poor Players. Thanks to excellent acting by Jeremy Blackman as narcissistic teenage star, Severin Mahirwe as a lisping geek and Zack Sheppard as a licentious and somehow sympathetic theater teacher, Rice’s play avoided kitsch.  Although the play got off to fast-paced start, it began to lag as its initial sarcasm gave way to weightier moral questions.   Thankfully, the cast carried the play and sustained the audience’s attention with their endearing renderings of Rice’s well-shaped characters.