Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 25, 2021

Witness Theater presents new plays centered on the dynamics of office life

By JAE CHOI | February 20, 2020

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COURTESY OF BENJAMIN EVANS Students wrote, directed and acted in Witness Theater’s four new plays.

 Witness Theater presented its annual Intersession Showcase at the Swirnow Theater this weekend. The show featured four new student-written plays all tied together by the theme of office life. Junior Dominique Dickey was the executive producer, and sophomore Aparajita Kashyap was the stage manager for the show. The vibrance of the performances throughout the night truly brought the stage to life and made for a show filled with ample humor, drama and intrigue. 

Sophomore Bridget O’Leary, one of the playwrights for the showcase, talked about this year’s unique theme and the incorporation of romance throughout the plays, especially fitting for the Valentine’s Day performances on Friday night.

“The prompt for this show required an office space, so we had to write a play that takes place in the office. I guess everyone kind of included romance in it; I don’t think it was part of the prompt but it was interesting that everyone included it,” she said. 

Once the house lights dimmed and the crew illuminated the stage, the show began. The first play, Mandatory Fun, was directed by senior Brandon Lim and written by senior Maya Singh Sharkey. 

Coworkers Beth (junior sophia Triantis), Jenny (freshman Sigrid Edson), Marvin (junior Sana Kamboj) and Tyler (junior Christian Tessman) are thrown into consternation when their overly enthusiastic boss Rick (junior Owen Campbell) announces that the office will be engaging in a set of unethical “team-building” challenges to boost the performance of their branch of the company — with the loser of the challenges getting fired. 

While the coworkers are taking on Rick’s challenges, a representative from HR, Siobhan (junior Becky Shade), shows up. She allows the challenges to continue on one condition: that Rick himself becomes one of the contenders. 

What follows is a dramatic exploration of the coworkers’ allegiances to their boss and to each other, and at the end of the play, Jenny ends up fired, Marvin resigns, and Beth and Tyler acquire positions at the Philadelphia branch of the company together after Tyler confesses his feelings of affection for Beth. The play was notable for its sharp wit, and the ebb and flow of tensions between characters was masterfully regulated by each of the actors. 

Tessman and Triantis developed strong chemistry on stage, which reached its high point when Tessman confessed his feelings for Beth. Edson, Kamboj, Campbell and Shade also delivered strong performances, magnifying the unique personas of their characters. Shade’s lines were particularly humorous, especially when she encourages Kamboj’s character to follow her dream of opening her own bakery. 

“This is the best and only muffin I’ve ever tasted!” Shade declared.

The second play, titled Angelina Bishop is Dead, was directed by Edson and written by O’Leary. What was notable about Angelina Bishop was that it presented a supernatural mystery plot within the context of an office at a detective agency. O’Leary noted that she wanted to explore the synthesis of detective and fantasy fiction through Angelina Bishop.

“I love detective stories and I love fantasy stories, so I just kind of wanted to combine them together. I like having a little bit of horror aspects in it as well,” O’Leary said. 

Shortly after finding a girl who was reported to be dead, Eliot (sophomore Brian Gabriele) is brought in for questioning by a detective couple, Catherine (junior Laura Hinson) and Margot (Singh Sharkey). While staying at the office, the girl, Angelina (freshman Emily Kulp), reunites with her father, Henry (senior Sam Cox), who realizes that his daughter’s no longer who he thought she was. While trying to reconcile the fact that Angelina, who had been confirmed dead several months prior, was now apparently alive, Eliot theorizes that the place where he found Angelina may have actually been an interdimensional portal in which shapeshifters come to earth and assume the form of humans around them, which would explain the existence of multiple copies of Angelina. 

Eliot, Margot and Catherine eventually discover that copies of their own bodies (as well as another Angelina) have been found, and the play ends with the detective couple leaving the office to continue their investigation outside, hand in hand. As the stage lights dim, an ominous red flare lingers on the set before it turns dark. 

Cox put on the persona of an anxious father with moving pathos, while Gabriele’s delivery of his maniacal conspiracy-ridden theories was unmatched, mirroring the frenzied activity of the final play. Hinson and Singh Sharkey gave strong performances as the office couple while Kulp, a first-time actor for Witness Theater, also gave a standout performance.

“It was a lot of fun. This was my first time actually acting, so it was a really awesome experience. I was really in awe of how amazing the students are in terms of directors and the producers,” Kulp said. “They are all very good at what they do, but they also make sure that we’re having fun and that we can put on the best performance.”

The third play, Glad to Have Worked Here, directed by Shade and written by junior Chloe Otterson, was a simple but moving portrayal of office politics and interpersonal reconciliation. 

Collins (senior Emma Shannon) and Perry (Cox) are two coworkers doing a joint retirement, but when their boss (freshman Ava Powell) decides to throw a party, Collins seems to get all the limelight while Perry is mostly ignored by the boss and the other coworkers, a pattern of neglect that has been going on for years. Perry’s monologues seeth with bitterness and jealousy, and he tries to think of ways he can badmouth Collins to the other coworkers. The loneliness only becomes amplified when Collins’ partner, Gerry (Gabriele), joins the party with gifts. 

But when Collins shifts the conversation to thanking Perry for his guidance while training Collins as an intern, Perry experiences a change of heart and the two part on good terms. Perry’s visible confusion at Collins’ praise was a big turning point in the play, and seeing him come to terms with Collins was heartwarming.  

The final play of the night, Numbers Game, was directed by Gabriele and written by Powell and freshman Andrea Guillen. Four students, Oliver (Lim), Ellie (senior Julia Bernal), Connie (Kulp) and Corbin (sophomore Elijah Eaton) each go through their stories of how they became employed at a university office by the recruiter. 

They begin sensing inconsistencies in each others’ stories and begin to question their reality; they even begin theorizing that they are being watched in a reality TV show. At one point, they break the fourth wall, realizing that the people surveying may be the audience in attendance. They also begin theorizing about where the students’ tuition is going, and tensions (and laughs) rise as they craft more and more outlandish theories.

The play was incredibly entertaining, and I was in awe at the way each of the actors skillfully delivered their long and voluminous lines; the frenetic machinations of Lim’s and Eaton’s characters matched the frustrated energy of Bernal’s and Kulp’s characters and kept me on the edge of my seat.

The way that each of the plays explored the dynamics of office life was utterly unique, and I was pleased with the creative visions that each of the playwrights brought to their stories.

Shade, who is the president of Witness Theater and who also acted and directed for the show, stated that her wide-ranging involvement with Witness Theater helped her gain a new perspective on the highly collaborative environment fostered by its members. 

“Having been involved in everything from choosing the set and casting and directing and acting, and all the coordination and communication, I’ve noticed how everyone works together so well and communicates really openly, and as students, I think that’s something that’s rare in group work,” she said. “It’s really enjoyable, and everyone feels like they’re contributing something meaningful.”

O’Leary was especially happy with all the performances. 

“I’m just happy with how it all turned out. It was an amazing show — everyone did so well, and I’m so proud,” she said.

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