Three nude models, two lost people who taste of sherbert, and a modern retelling of an ancient Greek myth: these are summaries of the plays I had the pleasure of viewing in this year’s annual New Works Festival, which is comprised of plays written by U of R students. This year featured three; “Cassandra”, written by Senior Leigh Kilgus, “Kate and Jerry Taste Like Sherbert” by Junior Syd Rose Kilroy, and “The Three Graces” by sophomore Celeste Ollivier. The plays were directed by playwright and director Forest Hartl, who said that his favorite aspect of directing New Works was being able to have the student playwrights in the room during rehearsal.
“I think having the playwrights in the room was … one of the best parts of the experience because they were [able to explain] their vision, and I was lucky to have three really talented playwrights to collaborate with, which makes my job easier,” Hartl said.
The show kicked off with a light hearted yet thought-provoking comedy “The Three Graces.” Calling out censorship and sexism in the modern day, this play was written as an ode to women and the female body. The cast was made up of three nude models (Aya Serikova, Ada Diep, and Nora Stock) and a French artist (Duncan Haywood), who is painting them. The play contains witty rhetoric between the models, as they argue over the true function of a woman’s body. Ollivier writes that it was inspired by “the ultimate destruction of any and all socially normative phenomenon,” and attempted to dismantle stigmas and taboos around the concept of femininity and female bodies.
“Kate and Jerry Taste Like Sherbert,” the second play featured, was a dark comedy that focused on mental illness in a deeply raw and truthful way, and addressed the stigmas surrounding it and the negative lens that society sees the mentally ill through. In the play, a homeless burglar (Crawford Banks) and a woman with a mental illness (Ande Seigel) form an unlikely bond when he tries to break into her home, and create a dialogue about their respective struggles. When asked about her experience acting in the show, Seigel said:
“I just love the writing … of the play, it’s just really good and Syd’s really talented … it’s been great working with Syd and Crawford and Forest on this project.”
“Cassandra,” the final play of the festival, was inspired by the Greek myth of the same name, about a woman who was cursed with the ability to see the future, but was never believed when relaying her prophecies. Kilgus cleverly put a modern spin on this ancient myth, intertwining it with the #MeToo movement and telling the story in a moving, powerful way, of sexual assault victims on college campuses. In the play, protagonist Cassandra (Katie Murphy) is a college freshman who is raped early in her college career by Andre (Alex Bueermann). Aligning with the myth, her rapist spits in her mouth after she confronts him, cursing her so that no one will believe her when she tells of the assault. She undergoes an emotional, tumultuous process, in which neither her father nor one of her best friends Mona (Joye Anderson) believe her traumatic story. Her only ally is her friend Kendrick (Joshua Lillard) who is facing his own challenges as a gay youth. When asked about her experience playing Cassandra, actor Katie Murphy said:
“Being Cassandra has taught me a lot about my capabilities…I had to push myself a lot with this role…I had to learn a lot about being comfortable with being uncomfortable, learn how to test my limits.”
I found the plays to be insightful and extremely captivating. All three addressed important topical issues, and connected back to larger themes of injustice in society. Although all were written very differently, they complimented each other well, and the visible energy and passion of the actors created a very dynamic stage presence. The chemistry between the actors was palpable, and it was so inspiring to see such an intimate and connected group come together to tell these stories. I’ll confess that I’ve never had an avid interest in theater, but these plays captivated me so much that I forgot for a moment the context I was in, and became enthralled by the stories they were portraying. The New Works festival was both accessible and moving, and I would highly recommend future attendance of this annual event to my fellow U of R students next fall.
Photograph by Charles Convis.