The audience hushed, the casually overlooking dinosaur skeleton faded into the dim background, and I prepared myself for my first Todd Theatre experience, figuring it was about time I ventured into the world of fellow student playwrights and performers.

On the menu was the 12th annual One Act Play Festival, a yearly compilation of student-written single acts. The show ran a full course this past week, offering a spectacle of compelling characters and kooky costuming from Wednesday night to Saturday’s matinee.
I salted my popcorn and found a solid vantage point. I was about to lose my Todd Theatre V-card.

What’s up for the first act? ‘Stage Noir” introduced attorney Max, enthusiastically played by junior Alex Cox, who fumblingly searches for the killer of Natasha’s (Take Five Jacqueline R. O’Donnell) father. As Natasha and Max ploddingly recount the events which resulted in his tragic demise, the wily suspect Jimmy, played by goofy senior Griffin Pahl, unravels their threadbare accusation and reveals the murderer’s true identity.

Many of the act’s jokes spin on acknowledgment of the theatre setting, providing a self-aware humor which offsets its foray into slapstick, such as the bizarre usage of fish bones, ‘Pimp” business cards and purple feather fedoras.

At the conclusion of the eclectic murder mystery, the soft-voiced femme fatale seals her fate with a lipstick-smeared smooch, playwright and sophomore Jessica Chinelli’s nod to the allure of smokey-screened classic film noir.

While the first act rested its storyline on light-hearted hilarity, the following performance of junior Emily Fogel’s ‘Woman of My Dreams” presents an ominous consultation with a domineering psychiatrist (senior Joey Hartmann-Dow).

In the surreal scene, the troubled, unnamed protagonist (played by freshman Sullivan Kidder) becomes increasingly disillusioned as he searches for his fabled soul mate. Instead of happily settling down with his prearranged bride-to-be, the protagonist expresses interest in Michael (senior David Weygandt), his male coworker.

While the act’s intention was to convey the surrealism of a world which mandates that young men are arranged into eerily perfect partnerships, I think her message was often muddled.

For instance, the performance, in attempt to convey its proposed setting in another world, is prefaced by video clips of 1950’s poodle skirt moralism, very reminiscent of those dating videos which instruct the art of romantic hand-holding at the soda parlor.

The fact that the setting is in another dimension is not explicitly addressed anywhere, though it is implied via the videos and some set elements, making it confusing for viewers who assume the action is taking place in a previous decade and have a hard time deciphering the seemingly random introduction of these elements.

The ordinary ‘Office Space” chic of the set and wardrobe is an interesting contrast to the brutal questioning that the protagonist endures as he rebels against the stringent ‘1984″-like ideology. Neon constellation mobiles hang in the air like many question marks.

After the metaphorical curtains closed on the protagonist’s troubling dilemma, we are then shown with a sparse but familiar scene: starting the next play a hair-pinned housewife warily assuring herself that yes, her lipstick is well-placed and yes, the wine glasses are sparkling clean.

But all is not well either, we learn, on Wisteria Lane, as Eunice (freshman Emma Caldwell, impeccably in character) and her husband David (sophomore Matthew Noyes) struggle to lay claim over his sexual dysfunction.

While Eunice labors to convince her husband to try, try again, David, in his stalwart masculinity, refuses to discuss his failures. As the two grow increasingly accusatory, viewers feel torn between the two.

Do we side with the distraught housewife in her desperate self-presentation, or are we pulled toward David, the injured and indignant patriarch? Playwright and freshman Quinlan Mitchell served us a fraught emotional ultimatum in his complex play.

Finally, the One Act Play Festival closed with a musical number, as playwright and senior Maximillien Letaconnoux introduces us to ‘The Old Man and His Machine,” a gray-haired senior (the ironically fresh-faced senior Matt Meyers) who tinkers day and night on a mysterious mechanical project. The geezer’s constant hunched-over hammering attracts the attention of two adorably obnoxious kids (senior Philip Fleisher and freshman Kelsey Burritt) who alert their suburbanite mothers (junior Andrea Sobolewski and freshman Kara Heon) that the old man is building (gasp!) a bomb.

Letaconnoux’s act is spiked with brief but thoroughly amusing musical oeuvres which borrow from both Gospel side-swaying and ‘Back to the Future” charming dorkiness.
The hilariously overcooked personality of Frenchie Madame Boulanger (junior Samantha Levine) lends eccentricity to the community sing-along at the act’s conclusion. And then the curtain finally closes.

As the curtains closed, the lights turned back on, and the world was returned to a non-actored reality, I was a little wistful that the real world wasn’t scripted like these plays.

Titus is a member of the class of 2011.

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