Witness Theater presented their Fall Showcase in the Mattin Center’s Swirnow Theater this weekend. Produced by junior Dominique Dickey and stage managed by sophomore Aparajita Kashyap, the show featured an evocative collection of three student-directed and -written one-act plays.
Dickey distinguished the set from its previous counterparts, noting the annual challenge of creating a set that can accommodate multiple plays.
“It’s difficult to be able to build a set that has visual interest but is also blank enough that it can be anywhere,” they said.
“A lot of the time, the Fall Showcase is a box that’s a neutral color; this one’s a more adventurous box than what we usually have.”
Dickey commended Technical Director Minh-Tam Tran Le and members of the build crew for helping to design movable scenery that allowed the set to serve as both a funeral home and the backstage of a concert venue.
The first play, Anything to Stay Together, written by sophomore Bri O’Leary and directed by junior Chloe Otterson, takes place in the living room of a cloistered manor. The young Violet Winter (junior Kinsey Tyler), while playing cards with her tutor Bianca Stevens (freshman Andrea Guillén), muses that she can still feel the presence of her late older sister Margaret.
Bianca asks Violet’s mother Helena (sophomore Joi Haskins) if she’s considered taking Violet to a therapist. Helena and her husband Lawrence (senior Sam Cox) reject the suggestion and proceed to reveal their own unhealthy grieving; they criticize Bianca’s immodest attire and offer her Margaret’s old dresses.
“You want me to wear your dead daughter’s clothes?” Bianca asks with spot-on delivery.
Bianca goes to her room, and the butler Georgia Evans (junior Sumi Kim) reminds Helen and Lawrence that Bianca can’t homeschool Violet yearlong — she’s leaving for college soon.
“I believe she studies history,” Evans says.
“You do remember this is a summer position, right?”
Later, Evans tells Bianca that she found Margaret dead in a ravine — somewhere she’d never venture — shortly before she was supposed to go to college. Because Lawrence has smashed the car, Evans promises Bianca that she’ll get her a cab tomorrow.
Bianca awakes to find that her bags have been unpacked. Evans hobbles in, bleeding out.
Although Kim’s emotional repertoire was unparalleled, all four other characters deliver electrifying performances as Violet and Bianca finally recognize that Helena and Lawrence killed Margaret so that she wouldn’t abandon them. In addition, I appreciated how the play avoided melodrama by artfully employing humor.
The second play, Wildflower — written and directed by seniors Claire Beaver and Matt Mullner, respectively — was even funnier. Whereas in the first play the audience questions who killed a young woman, the cast of Wildflower questions what killed the vibe at their concert; they’re backstage partway through their set and wondering why no one clapped for them.
Band members Laurel (freshman Ava Powell), Gary (sophomore Brian Gabriele), Rob (junior Christian Tessman) and Jack (sophomore Marcos Hernandez) engage in idiosyncratic banter while they hash it out. They debate Schrödinger’s cat, reminisce about drunken missteps and analyze how being on tour has complicated their ability to connect with one another. Their chemistry is absolutely phenomenal.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Powell mentioned that though she’d hated performing in middle and high school, her friends had dragged her along to audition for Witness.
“I was never an extrovert, but I guess now I am,” she said. “I never thought I’d be on stage.”
Rob compares Laurel to a “half-baked Steven Tyler,” and when she argues that she’s carrying the band, he tells her, “The only thing you’ve ever carried is a vodka soda.” I laughed out loud.
When Gary says that he stares at Laurel because she’s “the only girl,” Jack points out that he’s bi, to which Gary responds, “Well, you’re ugly, and Rob’s a piece of shit.”
Eventually their manager Riley (played by Cox) enters and divulges that the audience stopped clapping because Jack stripped on stage. Wildflower ends with Jack about to repeat the action, mirroring how the character had been zipping his fly at the beginning of the play.
As stage manager, Aparajita Kashyap called lighting and sound cues and acted as a liaison between tech, actors and directors. The biophysics major also wrote the third play, Strangers (directed by senior Laura Oing). Witness writers workshop all their plays together.
“It’s the first time I’ve creatively written anything and seen it all the way through,” she said. “It’s been absolutely wild.”
Reunited at their mother’s funeral, estranged sisters Alex (junior and Barnstormers President Ritika Kommareddi) and Martine (played by Beaver) sit alongside stepparent Robin (senior Skylar Freyman) at a private ceremony, bickering because of an unresolved conflict from a decade ago. Martine hasn’t even told Alex that she’s expecting a baby with her wife.
After Martine storms out, Alex apologizes to her mother, who then materializes on stage. Martine’s conversation with Roxanne (senior Maya Singh Sharkey) enables her to later reconcile with Alex; Alex explains that she helped a drunk Martine write a letter to Roxanne so that she wouldn’t have to take over the family business. Alex confesses that she despises being a consultant, and Martine offers her a job.
A new scene starts with the monotonous and petrifying Funeral Director (sophomore Ria Gualano) telling Roxanne that she upheld her end of the bargain.
Roxanne argues that she wanted her daughters to reconcile before her death, and the director corrects her — her exact words were “before she was in the grave.” The Funeral Director threatens the death of Alex’s unborn child, and Roxanne accepts her own fate.
Kashyap praised Gualano and Singh Sharkey’s acting during this scene.
“Watching Maya and Ria bring that to life in a way that it could never be alive on a page was incredible,” she said.
The mesmerizing lighting further enhanced Gualano’s diabolical portrayal and also elevated Strangers’ resonance (in charge of lighting design was sophomore Sara Malina).
Kommareddi described her role in the play and student theater in general as cathartic.
“I love how emotional Alex is, and I just really enjoy emotional characters because I don’t usually get the chance to have that many outbursts as a person,” she said.
“Hopkins is a very stressful place... and it does not offer as many creative outlets as we would like. Student theater is one of the few safe havens that a lot of people have.”
Kommareddi remarked on the sense of accomplishment that participating in Witness provides.
“It’s the fall, we’re all so busy, but we’re still trying to do quality work, entertain a crowd and find our outlet in a place where it’s hard to do that artistically,” she said.
“Swirnow is my home... You feel like ‘This is where I belong, and I’m about to do something I love with the people I love.’”