Witness Showcase highlights talent both onstage and behind the scenes

By KATHERINE LOGAN | October 5, 2017

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COURTEST OF WITNESS THEATER Gemma Simoes Decarvalho and Usman Enam starred in IQ, a featured play.

On Friday, September 29, Witness Theater’s Fall Showcase premiered in the Swirnow Theater. This year’s lineup featured the debut of five original and student-written short plays, including Kiana Beckman’s Please Form a Line Here,Anita Louie’s IQ, Vanessa Quinlivan’s Invisible, Emma Shannon’s Perfect Strangers and Michael Feder’s Neighbor.

This diverse array of works, produced by Sarah Linton, highlighted the unique voices and talent that exists on the Hopkins campus.

Linton described the process behind selecting the five plays that Witness featured in this year’s showcase.

“Witness is about supporting student writers, so we look for well-written plays that get us excited about doing theater,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

She discussed the need for writers to creatively engage with their stories and with the audience.

“Strong writing is very important; it’s more fun for the actors and directors if they’re telling a story they believe in and can engage with,” Linton said. “We also try to do plays from a variety of genres to keep things interesting.”

Please Form A Line Here, directed by Brandon Lim and Sharon Maguire, played with the notion of God as a deceased reality TV star, Gary Goldman. David Gumino shone both literally and metaphorically as an extremely devout follower of “The Great Gary,” who, in a twist ending, winds up experiencing a crisis of faith.

Beckman’s script sparked interesting questions about religious systems, yet it tried to cover so much ground that it may have left some viewers feeling a little overwhelmed.

Another play centered around a satirical future that feels more relatable than one might like to admit. IQ, directed by David Gumino and Deborah Weidman, takes place in a world where the government has forced all of the citizens to take an IQ test.

From then on, they will have to wear their numerical score. It is meant to serve as a more egalitarian measure of their worth.

A highlight of IQ were the moments of romantic tension between Ana, played by Gemma Simoes Decarvalho, and Ridley, played by Usman Enam.

Louie is a junior now, but she wrote the play during her freshman year. She discussed how the concept of test scores being used to define a person is relatable to anyone that has experienced the admissions process.

“I was sort of shocked how Hopkins was no different from high school in terms of how people put emphasis on their scores instead of on learning. I revisited the draft of the play this summer when I was studying for the MCAT, and it really resonated since I found myself getting lost in my scores,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Invisible, directed by Matt Mullner and Renee Scavone, centered around the struggles of an actress and playwright, Andrea, played by Erin Todaro. Andrea is confronted by one of her peers about her rendition of him in her latest work.

“My play is about writing — art may imitate life because when we write, we draw on our personal experiences and relationships, but it also goes the other way,” Quinlivan, the author of Invisible, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “It has to be odd to be the friend of an artist and see elements of yourself and your relationship with them in their work, especially if they didn’t ask you first.”

The play within a play element was interesting, if at times a tiny bit confusing. That said, something especially fun to watch was Jackie Gladden’s portrayal of Andrea’s sister, Bee, from the audience. Their conversations brought a hearty dose of humor to the show.

“Working with Witness is great because the process is always unique,” Todaro wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Students from all backgrounds and experience levels get to contribute as equals to an exciting product that was never seen before and will never be seen again!”

Sophomore Emma Shannon wrote and directed the play Perfect Strangers,with Renee Scavone serving as assistant director.

Following the lives of arguably one of the cutest couples that never was, it balanced almost too good to be true rom-com elements with bittersweet doses of reality, deftly playing with the audience’s “Will they or won’t they?” expectations.

Shannon was particularly interested in exploring campus hookup culture and visions of alternate possibilities or realities.

“I drew inspiration from my experiences and the experiences of others. It’s the first time hookup culture has really been relevant in my life and I like to think about sort of ‘almost situations,’ and what could have been,” Shannon wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Although it only featured two actresses, Morgan Griffin and Claire Beaver, Neighbor, directed by Pepe Muniz, still packed an emotional punch.

Those that attended Feder’s recent Tentative Digital Theatre Company production, Vacation, could see a clear line tying it to Neighbor in the shared themes of the struggle to communicate effectively and to process grief.

The dynamic relationship between the two female characters, Cathy and Melissa, in the wake of Cathy’s daughter’s death takes center stage in Neighbor. But the characters’ marriages to their respective husbands, who interestingly barely appear onstage, add to the complexity of the situation.

Both Griffin and Beaver brought the necessary intensity to their emotional roles.

Feder elaborated on his interest in trusting the audience to actively engage with his work rather than providing them with a more straightforward depiction of a character’s struggles.

“If something is so painful to a character that it warrants a story be told about it, it cannot then be easy or straightforward for them to communicate that pain to the audience or another character,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Instead, these characters talk about everything else: cleaning out their closets, entertaining the neighbors, drinking tea. I think the audience is perceptive enough to see this and know that something else is really going on.”

Neighbors was Beaver’s first production with Witness. She loved that students were the ones running the show.

“I encourage everybody to try to write a play or audition to be in one,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Senior Allie Zito felt like each of the shows provided unique and interesting commentary on modern life.

“It featured plays that offered a fresh perspective on life and actors that really brought the writers’ themes to light. The set really lent itself to a diverse number of uses, and the lighting was spot on,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Correction: The original article used an incorrect pronoun for Anita Louie. The News-Letter regrets this error.

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