CUP comes through with quali-TEA theatre

After thoroughly enjoying last semester’s performance of “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” our Arts Editor was excited to head to the Lerner Black Box Theater last night for the CU Players One Act Festival. True to its billing, the festival consisted of five (relatively) short one-act plays, written by a variety of professional playwrights but entirely produced, directed, and performed by Columbia students.

Having attended one-act performances and theatre festivals in the past, I’ve discovered a particular virtue of one-act theatre: even if the show is exceptionally bad (or you, as an audience member, are just exceptionally bored), there is always a guarantee that the scene will be over (relatively) quickly. During last night’s performances, however, I never once had to reassure myself of this guarantee; if anything, I wanted the performances to go longer. CUP’s dramatic performances were engaging and thought-provoking, and during the sporadic moments of levity, the actors’ comedic delivery was spot-on. Even with such a wide variety in the plays selected for the festival, the transitions between each one-act were seamless, and as an audience member, I was thoroughly engrossed in each performance from start to finish.

The first play performed, “Medea” by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang and directed by Anya Josephs (CC ‘16), is a satirical reimagining and modernization of the classical story of Medea, Haley Kane (BC ‘19), and her vengeance on her unfaithful husband Jason, Adil Tyeb (SEAS ‘17). Although the play draws heavily from Euripides’ work and makes use of a chorus of three “Trojan women,” references and themes in the play are modernized for the sake of the satire. The majority of the humor in the play comes from its self-awareness; “Medea” introduces herself to the audience at the start of the play and later actively calls for a deus ex machina to save her. A whirlwind of absurdity and antiquity, this play definitely earned its laughs.

“Waiting,” a play by Ethan Coen and directed by Parth Chhabra (CC ‘19), features Madeline Ducharme (BC ‘19) as an optimistic individual, “Nelson,” who appears to be stuck in some kind of waiting room for heaven, a purgatory. Through conversations and arguments with a series of increasingly unhelpful (and intentionally dilatory) secretaries, Nelson realizes that maybe this waiting room isn’t really one step away from heaven as she previously thought. In this performance, Ducharme’s expansive range of emotional acting and boundless optimism stand out, compelling the audience to root for her even as we discover that she’s impossibly stuck.

The third play, “One Tennis Shoe” by Shel Silverstein and directed by Matthew Seife (CC ‘16), had me laughing so hard I nearly cried. The scene opens on a Harvey and Sylvia, played by Asher Varon (GS/JTS ‘18) and Rose Meriam (CC ‘19), bickering and arguing over whether Sylvia is turning into a “bag lady,” an argument that soon escalates to the point of hilarity and absurdity. For me, this play was charming and fantastically funny; Varon’s portrayal of exasperation is Woody Allen-esque, and the chemistry between the two actors gave the scene an incredible sense of energy and liveliness that is laudable.

Varon appears again in the very next play aside Alex Cedar (CC ‘19), portraying two soldiers traipsing through a minefield in Robert Spera’s “The Field.” Directed by Aaron Fisher (CC ‘18), this play jumps from humorous to somber to morbid multiple times as the two characters entertain and distract each other by cracking jokes, singing songs, and telling stories of home and other friends. The chemistry between Cedar and Varon really make the performance all the more real, drawing the audience into a war where the anxiety of death is ever-present.

A ten-minute intermission followed “The Field” while crew and cast set up for the final production, “Cowboy Mouth” by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith and directed by Leo Angulo. The program marked this production with a trigger warning, and for good reason: this performance was easily the most intense of all the plays of the festival, both in terms of the topics addressed in the play and the performance of the actors. The central plot of “Cowboy Mouth” follows Slim and Cavale, played by Isaac Jiffar (CC ‘18) and Haley Kane (BC ‘19), two degenerate rockstar-hopefuls living and drinking in a trashed motel-room together. Throughout the play, Cavale and Slim swap stories about their pasts and former lives, and some elements about the characters become clear; Cavale kidnapped Slim from his wife and child, but they have now fallen in love with each other, compelling Slim to stay. Both Slim and Cavale possess a manic sort of energy, and Jiffar and Kane both do a spectacular job depicting the dark and spiraling despair that arises from this complicated living situation. While I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that the incredible moments of tenderness and complicated humanity that pop up in this play make it a must-see.

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