The Spring Sampler: A Little of Everything, From Everyone

Cecelia Messbauer, Copy Editor

What do a heart transplant, a manipulative GPS, a depressed college student, a 60’s lesbian, and a Robot Zombie Death Shark from Mars have in common? Absolutely nothing. Which is why MacDuffie Theater once again delivered an incredible show.

A  season that kicked off with an obscure 50’s New Hampshire comedy and anchored its winter with a massive rendition of Chicago has been wrapped up with a perfectly eclectic Spring Sampler, cementing last year’s new addition to the calendar with a showcase of both new and veteran talent at all stages of production that provided a whirlwind night of creative experimentation.

Just as in the Sampler’s 2015 debut, student directors joined Arts Department Chair and theater teacher Becky Beth Benedict and longtime MacDuffie Stage producer Ted Lyman to bring the short plays to life. In a new twist to the fledgling tradition, all five of the one-acts performed were written by students, faculty, and alumni.

Chicago co-stars Alexis Chapin and Gina Napolitano took the director’s chair to oversee the first two plays. Napolitano helmed senior Mishka Jalagnia’s The Promise, a verbose deliberation on the nature of love in the most difficult and dramatic circumstances, driven by the exuberant narration of sixth grader Sophie Stetson and the focused, rapid fire explication of heart surgery, co-dependency, and dubious self-sacrifice by eighth graders Sean Bordenca and Juliana Segura.

Chapin directed math teacher Peter Shelburne’s Gus Penelope Syberson, a no-holds-barred satire on human dependence on technology that refreshingly allowed technology to revel in its own importance through the powerfully-projected smugness of junior Jessica Hurley, playing a futuristic, self-aware GPS unit that possesses its owners to do away with the inefficient, awkward couple of Beverley and Henry, played to perfection through rising tension and constant time skips by sophomore Kevin Hong and junior Ayano Kubota. In an impressively layered comedy, Hurley’s GPS is the seductive Gus to Beverley and the nagging Penelope to Henry, highlighting that technology tends to exacerbate that which is already present in the human beings who use it.

Chapin took a double-role in the program as the writer of the pre-intermission finale, Just Let Go, a heartbreakingly real portrayal of depression with a courageous script that was equal to the sublime acting of sophomore Verona Maysonet-Ayala and senior Ian Soares under the direction of Benedict.  Soares’s Clarence, battling depression and fighting off suicide in his first year in college, is able through his friendship with Maysonet-Ayala’s Sophie to openly speak to the harshest realities of his mind and ultimately realize that self-hatred does not, and should not, make someone unloveable. Soares, in his last MacDuffie production, delivered a gut wrenching rationalization for his own self-destruction, and Maysonet-Ayala’s insistent counterarguments provided a spine-tingling theatrical testament to the power of communication.

That theme continued on the other side of the intermission, with Lyman’s interpretation of Class of 2014 alum Maryanne Magnier’s Another Day, Another Conversation, in which freshman Olivia Ramirez plays a 1960s college student who clashes with her conservative mother (junior Parla Ozdelice) over the Vietnam War and fends off the suave but self-aware attempts by a vacuum cleaner salesmen (senior Bobby Gu) to get her to throw away some money by engaging him in a philosophical discussion about generational divides. The play’s brilliance is its frankness in putting the realities of rising generations against the know-nothing assumptions of their elders: the salesman’s attempts at flirting with the student are immediately shut down with a frank “I’m a lesbian.” In this clash of perspectives, honesty is respected throughout; the conversation is safe, and maybe even productive. (We can dream, right?)

Capping the evening was, appropriately, a show in which all rules of thematic and narrative coherence were thrown to the wind in favor of pure theatrical fun, as Benedict reprised her role as director one last time for math teacher Caleb Parsons’s Robot Zombie Death Sharks from Mars: The Musical! Not a word of that title proved to be embellishment, as an impossibly brave cast sang lyrics, the title lyric among them, danced in sci-fi lighting, and fled in futile terror from a real, live, Robot Zombie Death Shark from Mars, with Bobby Gu returning to the stage wearing MacDuffie’s strangest costume investment in recent memory. From a storytelling perspective, there was plenty to be desired, as lead female character Jenny Aubright (sophomore Zandra Yin) was shuffled through a nonsensical romance with overbearing and egotistical chemist Peter Dresdale (freshman Craig Judicki, an unbeatable lawyer no longer) before being fridged so that Drisdale could (plot twist) abandon humanity to its extinction after finding his true love with Gu’s Robot Zombie Death Shark (from Mars).  Of course, the audience had already had plenty of beautifully constructed stories at that point, and was more than happy to bask in the gleeful absurdity of high-risk musical theater that would have made the creators of Sharknado proud.

The one-acts were tied together by senior stage manager Cecilia Yu, an efficient stage crew that seamlessly flipped the stage from one world to the next, an ambitious costume crew led once again by sophomore Zeynep Erol (who made her stage debut as a nurse in The Promise), and a house music soundtrack headlined by the recordings of music teacher Asia Meirovich. The cumulative result was a night ripe with artistic diversity, and a display of incredible talent on so many levels by stars both established and rising within the ever-glowing firmament of MacDuffie Theater.