A ballerina stretched her limbs outside the Durham Studio Theater as an actor practiced his vocal exercises, both at odds with the glaring sunshine. 2 p.m. on a Friday seemed an unlikely time for a theater performance.
It was a few minutes before those smoking their cigarettes heeded the suggestion of Professor Peter Glazer, who said, “I’d go into the theater now if I were you.” After dropping my transparently terrible attempt to mime cigarette smoking — I just wanted to fit in — I entered the theatre. It was time for some real talent.
The performance for the afternoon, hosted by the department of theatre, dance and performance studies, was the 11th Directors’ Showcase to date. It was a sampling of student-directed theatrical works from students of the TDPS Stage Directing Class.
The showcase featured two programs each day, with four mini-plays comprising each program on Thursday May 4 and Friday May 5. The Friday afternoon showing was that of Program B.
“Defusion” figuratively and literally set the stage, preparing the audience for the showcase with a sparse set of chairs and a single desk. The comedy of errors followed four 20-somethings as they grapple with romantic dissatisfaction. The 25-year-old stoner vegetarian chef, played with swaggering British charm by Daryl Green, can’t seem to connect with his prim and preppy 27-year-old girlfriend. Both begin affairs with their old flames, he with his lonely and bored flirtatious ex and she with the “nice Jewish boy” she dated three years prior.
Director Emma Nicholls chose to footnote her play with the phrase “Eschew Obfuscation, Espouse Elucidation,” and, to her credit, she did just that. Rapid dialogue and a blatant disregard for the fourth wall advanced the plot by leaps and bounds. Yet the actors’ delivery kept the pace in that Goldilocks region of perfection — neither too fast nor too slow.
All the one-acts succeeded in timely pacing. To condense two-hour plays into the space of 20 minutes is rife with peril for the director and actors alike; one runs the risk of throwing the audience into that no man’s land of a metaphorical videocassette set on fast-forward, where voices are fed helium until virtually indiscernible from cartoon chipmunks (I’ve always said that the greatest tragedy of the digital age is that one can no longer get their Alvin and the Chipmunks fix every time they skip the boring parts. Just kidding, I’ve never said and I never will.).
Perhaps the greatest risk was Elizaveta Bam, the 1927 Russian avant-garde play by Daniil Kharms. With seven actors, Elizaveta Bam boasted the largest cast of the program. Dominique Brillon embodied Elizaveta, the criminal and criminally-misaccused protagonist, with aplomb.
A mix of battered defiance and fatigued vulnerability, Brillon fought tooth and nail for her very life. The cast’s dynamic was multiplied further by the use of bass, percussion, and a squealing trumpet, striking a balance between absurdity and drama.
After the intermission, “Medea” and “Wit” featured two strong women. Still, the protagonists could not have been more removed from each other. Danielle Diaz’s vengeful Medea was a force. One feared her restrained fury. Conversely, Vivian Bearing, the protagonist of “Wit” and a stage four metastatic ovarian cancer victim, is witty charm personified. Very appropriate, given that “Wit” is the title of the one-act.
Maya Miesner’s Professor Bearing is a dedicated educator, a woman with a diction addiction who has been notably reduced to her disease. With grace, humor and the poetry of John Donne, Bearing relives seminal moments of her life and does so in 20 minutes.
“Brevity is the soul of wit,” Margaret Edson, writer of “Wit” asserts. If that’s true, Bearing is soulful brevity. Her jocularity is sharp and fast; the audience is her pupil, and it is expected to keep up with her keen mind.
Brevity ultimately may be the one common feature uniting the theatrical works of the Directors’ Showcase, but they were all the more soulful for it.