George Washington, Mormon missionaries, and an ex-girlfriend from high school will all make an appearance as characters in the Quilhot Black Box Theatre in the Festival of Student Work.
The festival will include three student-directed one-act plays: “Hello Out There!,” “The Bear,” and “Wanda’s Visit.” In between these performances will be two 10-minute plays: “Take to the Mountains!” written by senior Brooke Benson, and “The Life and Death of George Washington,” by junior Austin Benson. All five one-act plays will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Sage Center for the Arts. Ticket reservations are required.
Though the plays are mostly comedies, “Hello Out There!” by playwright William Saroyan and directed by junior Katherine Buursma deals with more serious themes. Relatively simple staging contrasts the psychological complexity of the show in which a jail caretaker falls for an accused rapist.
“She starts talking to this young man, and he’s this suave kind of bad boy, and they hit it off,” Buursma said. “It’s a question of if he’s being sincere and really wants to marry her and take her to San Francisco like he says, or is he just trying to get out? So is he sincere or just being a slime ball trying to escape from prison? And is he rightfully accused or wrongly accused?”
In “Wanda’s Visit,” written by playwright Christopher Durang and directed by junior Jessica MacFarlane, life for a suburban couple in their 40s is temporarily disrupted when the husband’s ex-girlfriend from high school stops by to visit.
While the show is a comedy first and foremost, MacFarlane said it also deals with the more serious themes of marriage and long-term partnership — an aspect she said she wanted to balance with the humor as the play’s director.
“I’m trying to walk the line between having that come through and having people still laugh at it,” she said. “The script is great.”
The third of the longer one-act plays, “The Bear” by Anton Chekhov, will be directed by senior Nikolai Dignoti. It tells the story of a boorish man who comes to collect money from a recently widowed woman whose late husband owed the man a debt.
“Even though it’s an 1890s Russian play, it’s very fresh, very witty, very funny,” said Austin Benson, the lighting designer for the festival. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The two student-written one-act plays will be directed by Professor of Theatre George Angell. Both were written last spring for a seminar in playwriting. “Take to the Mountains!” shows what happens when two Mormons knock on the door of a man who thinks he’s Hannibal Barca about to take over Rome. “The Life and Death of George Washington,” another comedy, tells the story of three high-school students who travel back in time to interview George Washington for a history paper. Both Brooke and Austin said they enjoyed seeing some of their favorite pieces that they’ve written come to life onstage.
“My hook when I’m telling people about the show is that George Washington dies twice in ten minutes,” Austin Benson said.
The plays span a variety of times and themes, and both Buursma and MacFarlane said they have enjoyed the challenge of directing a play and are proud of the effort the actors have put into the show. Buursma added that “Hello Out There!” has a lasting quality.
“Art is subjective, so regardless of your training, there will be something you can appreciate,” Buursma said. “There will always be a critic and always be a fan. It might not be everyone’s favorite play, but it’s stuck around since the 1940s, so there’s something to be learned from it. So that’s what we’re setting out to do — to make great art.”