Barnard Theater Thesis Review

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Period drama

Barnard's was a different kind of Lady Macbeth than this one

Bwog’s Thesp Crit Joshua Sorenshine caught the last show of the thesis festival last night:

This weekend, the Barnard theater department opened its doors for the annual thesis festival, giving audiences a performance that left this reviewer heartily satisfied. Both Alex Brinkman-Young’s, BC ’11 rendition of Tom Stoppard’s Cahoot’s Macbeth and Katie Lupica’s, CC ’11 sampling of Erik Ehn’s Saint Plays entertained and challenged the audience throughout the course of the evening.

The night began with Cahoot’s Macbeth. In a quaint, and slightly skewed home owned by our hostess, played by Tara Pacheco, CC ’13 we found a rag-tag group of actors furiously trying to put on a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth while constantly fighting off, around, and even over the interference of a particularly nasty police inspector, played by the fabulously funny Christina McCarver BC ’13. The abrupt transitions from the world of Macbeth to the hostess’ home and back were made possible by the talent of Lorenzo Landini, CC ’13 as Pavel Landovsky (playing Macbeth) and Ben Russell, CC ’11 as Cahoot (playing Banquo, Duncan, and Macduff). The pair worked well together, never faltering as characters within Macbeth or their struggle against the inspector. The play grew more absurd by the minute as all the characters “caught” the nonsense language “Dogg,” which is passed like a disease from person to person. Easy, the unfortunate lumber-delivery girl, played by the brilliant Bethanie Mangigian, BC ’11, was the source of the Dogg, and could not do her job until everyone caught her inconvenient linguistic disease. In the play’s final moments the entire cast speaks in Dogg and Brinkman-Young’s directing shines. Creating the final moments of a play without comprehensible language is no small feat, but Brinkman-Young accomplished it with grace, giving her actors strong motivations and utilizing the entire stage to leave us laughing and questioning the lengths to which we can go to make ourselves heard.

After a brief intermission, Lupica’s Saint Plays began with a near-bare stage. Four separate plays made up Lupica’s piece, each loosely tracing the life of a Catholic saint. First, the execution of Joan of Arc, played beautifully by Elizabeth Poleski, BC ’11, is told through Joan’s eyes and her fiery, passionate love for God. Next up was an ‘alternate-history’ to the tale of Saint George in which George, played by Jonathan Gutterman, GS ’13 rips the wings off of Gunna. Maya De La Rosa-Cohen, CC ’11 played the young Gunna, and Naomi Andebrhan, CUMC ’11 played her as an adult. The play about George was bound to be an audience favorite because of its strong narrative structure, a feature notably absent from the subsequent two plays. Though it was difficult to piece together the story of the final two plays, which centered on Saint Agnes and Saint Christopher respectively, the extraordinary efforts of Katie Craddock, BC ’13 as Agnes and Maya De La Rosa-Cohen as Agatha made the plays easier to follow. Both these actresses managed to imbue their roles with sincerity (an especially difficult task for Craddock who had to become a thirteen year old leprosy-healer who was burned, drawn and quartered, and then decapitated) that made their journeys compelling to watch even if we didn’t quite understand what was happening. To enjoy Lupica’s offering and to appreciate her own touch on these plays, we had to simply take in the experience. Lupica’s creativity showed itself in all sorts of ways, from the eerie dance of the Angels in Joan of Arc’s play to her simple presentation of a car in the final play with little more than a square of light and a small religious icon dangling from the ceiling.

The thesis festival at Barnard occupies a special place in the Columbia/Barnard theater community. It is the only opportunity (apart from possibly The Varsity Show) on this campus for students to take full creative ownership of a production that has so many resources at its disposal. For the whole production team, the particular difficulty of the thesis festival was how to take advantage of those increased resources without making the plays about those extra effects, gimmicks, or set pieces. In both plays, the teams managed to produce works of high-quality design while not overpowering their plays. Particularly noteworthy contributions came from Rolando Rodriguez, CC ’12 for the Cahoot’s set and Jacob Rice, CC ’12 for the lighting in both plays.

If this production left anything to be desired, it was a sense of unity between the two productions. While it is not required as part of the festival, it might have done both plays some good to have worked together to create a through-line or, at least, some semblance of continuity between the plays. The other noticeable struggle of the thesis festival was the difference in talent that was observable onstage. While no actor performed poorly, those with more commitment and energy overpowered other roles. While it will be sad to see Brinkman-Young and Lupica depart the Barnard theater community just as they are both coming into their own as directors, we wish them the best of luck!

Cattermole via Wikimedia.

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  1. BHW  

    Marmalade. Gym Shoes.

  2. That Photo

    Is from a production in the fall.

  3. Anonymous  

    good to see Bwog taking an interest in the Barnard Theatre Department. they do a lot of great work! also, a thoughtful review. this was nice.

  4. RAWR.  

    1.) Write reviews after Wednesday's final dress, and then (omg) you could actually encourage people to attend any of the shows during the weekend. We ask you to do this every time any of us (omg) theatrically-inclined people want you to come, and you usually fail us. Sad face.

    2.) Last paragraph is bogus. Why should there be a through-line? They are billed as a festival only because they must happen around the same time according to the department's squishy schedule and tradition, not as cohesive something or rather. Why should two talented seniors with very different interests be forced to somehow align their productions after already being limited by the department's expectations?

    3.) Yes, the Barnard Theatre Department and the Varsity Show have the highest budgets; however, to claim that the "thesis festival at Barnard occupies a special place in the Columbia/Barnard theater community" because it's the only occasion when students can take "full ownership" is really quite silly. In every club theatre production (CUP, CMTS, Latenite, NOMADS, BTE, KCST), students often have huge agency and opportunity to learn a new production skill/technique, assert their creative ideas and inclinations, and watch all of the above manifest in very professional and enjoyable shows. To discount these clubs and their productions merely because of budgetary limitations is insulting. You'd be surprised what we can do with a black box and some Gatsby funds.

    Alex and Katie are not to blame for any of this, and I know we all applaud their amazing work, and that of their cast and production team (omg Rolando). Go you guys.

  5. BC'12

    ...I am almost completely certain that Ben Russell is CC'12, not '11.

  6. annoyed.

    The fact that you assume that the audience prefers "strong narrative" was very close-minded and showed me that you are not open to different types of theatre. It would be great to have people who are active in the theatre world to write the reviews!

    • ok  

      So write a review!

    • Hold up  

      It makes me sad that you import so much of your own normative self-concious about your support of non-narrative theater onto this review.

      The review states: "The play about George was bound to be an audience favorite because of its strong narrative structure, a feature notably absent from the subsequent two plays. Though it was difficult to piece together the story of the final two plays, which centered on Saint Agnes and Saint Christopher respectively, the extraordinary efforts of Katie Craddock, BC ’13 as Agnes and Maya De La Rosa-Cohen as Agatha made the plays easier to follow. " Nowhere in there is there the normative claim you assume is in the review that non-narrative theater is bad. The review simply comments on the nature of the play. If you want criticism, look at the subsequent paragraphs.

      Also, your assumption that someone with a theater background will like, or be more "open" to non-narrative theater is not sound. There are plenty of theater critics who do not like non-narrative theater. An understanding of the theater community was very clearly demonstrated in the third paragraph (more than in past Bwog reviews).

      It is wrong then to assume either that this review is anti-non-narrative theater or to say that if the reviewer was more anchored in the theater world that the review would have turned out differently.

  7. Alrighty  

    Enough with comments that have nothing to do with the shows themselves . . . I for one would like to extend a hearty CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL INVOLVED ON A TRULY BEAUTIFUL, JOYFUL EVENING OF THEATRE

    It's really hard to review plays billed as directing theses, because it's really hard to tell exactly for what a director can praised or held responsible or not. I think this reviewer made a valid effort. Of course I'm sure there's more to be said on that front, so hopefully people will keep commenting.

    From what I could tell in the audience it seems like both ladies did a great job coordinating all the talents of the others involved into two very different but respectively cohesive final products. Also, most obviously in Saint Plays but I think in Cahoots as well, all of the actors seemed to really love what they were doing, which was fun to see in the one campus production per year that's not all about them -- a good indication that, despite the different but equal weirdness of both plays, these directors should be commended for getting people to care about them as much as they did.

    Oh and I really do think there are some shoutouts missing here:
    1) Alex Shaw's set for Saint Plays was beautiful, elegant, specific, and well-executed (not to mention really thrilling when that tree showed up)
    2) Sound in Saint Plays was super cool . .. Assuming student designer gets kudos for that rather than just the director
    3) Lady Macbeth was simply stunning, as was Jenny V as one of the witches . . . Both came close to outshining the men for me at least

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