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MFA Directing Thesis: Terrorism

MFA Directing candidate Velani Dibba presents the latest Lenfest show.

Eerie sounds of an airport fill the room as the audience slowly shuffles in. The cast, already on stage, is in various stages of waiting. One person sits on a suitcase, another scrolls through their phone, and another simply stares into space. The lights go down and the show begins: there is a bomb threat at the airport. Terrorism, directed by Velani Dibba is a Columbia MFA Directing thesis, is showing March 5th-14th at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

Terrorism launches at the airport, and continues as a series of connected vignettes – a pair of lovers, a psychologist’s office, a park. They all flow into each other naturally, with one character from a scene somehow connecting to an event or character in the next. At the center of it, a character simply titled “Man” in the program, played by Brian McCormack (BFA Acting SUNY), is trying to fly to a business conference. When his flight is delayed, we see the consequences and ripple effect of the bomb threat.

In this show, drama is interwoven with philosophy, and the effect is although occasionally cheesy, often powerful. A series of moral dilemmas are placed before the audience, and, along with the characters, we are encouraged to form our own “what if” reactions.

The directing and staging of the show were phenomenal. Transitions between scenes were clean and snappy, as one location changed seamlessly into the other. Speakers positioned all around the stage created a convincing setting – the creaking of a swing in the distance, or a bed on stage. A small speaker in a dark kennel representing a whining dog was so convincing I looked around for the real animal on the stage.

The acting, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. Some roles, such as Victoria Nilsson’s (MFA Actors Studio Drama School) were successful – her portrayal of a mistress was funny and believable. Playing opposite to her, Andrew Harding (NYU Tisch) performed well as a mister – he was charming and smooth, with just enough philosophy thrown in not to be vapid. On the other hand, some performances were more lackluster. Robert Spiker’s portrayal of the character “Boss” was overacted, and it felt as though he was trying to hit me over the head with some deep “meaning”. Brian McCormack’s portrayal of “Man” was similar – with heavily emphasized words and sentences, his acting, although full of emotion, lacked subtlety.

As a work of directing, as a thesis, the show was excellent. It showed the true range of a director – the range of emotions and settings within the show was impressive, with everything from a park swing to a lover’s bed to an airport figuring into the plot. The characters experienced the full range of emotion, from horror, to fear, to love, to boredom. Each scene, each emotion was well crafted and clearly deliberate.

The show runs through March 14th, and if you’re still on campus then, it is a must-see work of campus art.

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