During an evening that featured senseless verbal sparring, a dysfunctional Olympian family, a kleptomaniac environmentalist and a wacky but sugar-sweet wedding, All College Theatre (ACT) proved once again that it holds dominion over the campus’ emotions, this time deciding to tickle our funny bones and give a light tug to our heartstrings.
From Nov. 15 to 19, ACT presented its annual “Evening of Shorts” to a packed house at the Black Box Theatre – a house that nearly came down as the breathless crowd exploded with laughter time and time again.
A rendition of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist comedy “The Bald Soprano” kicked off the evening. Running along the vein of the comedy “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, Ionesco’s “Soprano” is riddled with hollow, rapid-fire dialogue, slapstick comedy, occasional violence and general insanity. The play tells the story of an extremely confusing dinner party held by the overtly Anglican Smiths (whose first names we never learn). After engaging in a long, drawn-out, useless conversation, the Smiths’ dinner guests, the equally weird Martins, arrive. The “story” is interrupted several times by the Smiths’ wannabe-poet turned maid Mary, and the local fire chief. After a series of confusing fables, an argument about doorbells and a strange identity crisis, we don’t really learn anything, and we aren’t supposed to. According to the play’s director, James Van Strander, “Soprano” is an “anti-play” and an imitation of life that is supposed to go nowhere.
After this British quartet vanished from the stage, a martini-swirling, obscenity-spewing Cupid appeared, ready to introduce the next short – Jamie Manganelli’s “Fool for Love.”
The “fool” was Manganelli’s protagonist, Joe, a run-of-the-mill guy who is simply out looking for a sweet girl to take home to his mom. He doesn’t find it, and that’s where the fun comes in. Cupid narrates as Joe goes on one disastrous date after another, and runs across some of the most unsettling females, well, ever.
During his three dates, Joe contends with a possessive model who might as well have the word “stalker” branded across her forehead, a perky blonde who saves the whales while lining her pockets and an ex-porn star turned cultist lawyer. The evening leaves Joe face to face with a martini glass and the fact that his love life is on life support.
Just as Joe thinks all is lost, Manganelli sneaks his own philosophy about love into the play, speaking to Joe through Cupid. “Love is like gambling,” Cupid says, closing his speech. “You don’t gamble to win, you gamble because you like gambling!”
“I just wanted to write a sweeter romantic comedy with a narrator who shares my cynical view of love,” Manganelli, senior communication studies major, said. Hopefully, the chorus of cheers that went up for Cupid when he sauntered off stage for the last time let Manganelli know that he was successful.
The evening’s third play, “A Wedding,” was a less chaotic romantic comedy than “Fool for Love,” but its underlying sweetness and healthy balance of punch lines and plot progression kept the crowd delighted and doubled-over. The play’s protagonist, bridegroom Bob Tisdale, is forced to contend with a host of colorful characters nagging and advising him while he tries to get over his pre-ceremony jitters. Whether it’s the “professional” best man Archie, the slack-jawed best friend, Ted, the bride’s drunken aunt or Bob’s over-dramatic mother, there was always someone onstage ready to exacerbate Bob’s soaring stress level.
One of the potential problems with short plays is displayed during “A Wedding,” but it was expertly countered by director Alice Pei Yu Wen. Many of the characters receive very limited face time and the actors have almost no chance to portray the full array of a character’s personality. Normally, this would be a problem, but according to Maria Montroni, freshman communication studies major who played Miss Grayson, “We spent two weeks working on character depth. We had discussions in character and analyzed them to death. We wanted to get them down perfectly.”
The evening’s final act was “The Pat Pantheon Show.” After deciding that she is unhappy with her family life, the Greek goddess Athena drags them onto Pat’s talk show, which is intentionally modeled after “The Jerry Springer Show.” If the thought of a drunken Zeus, a paranoid Apollo, a bad girl Aphrodite and a hyperactive Hermes tangling on stage doesn’t make you laugh, then you might want to go see a doctor and make sure you still have a pulse. This play was 30 minutes of pure fun, with a little satire on trashy talk shows thrown in to satisfy those looking for something deeper than laughs.
During its “Evening of Shorts,” ACT actors promised laughter and delivered, while sneaking in some new ways to think about love and communication.
In short, you were lucky if you saw their shorts.