The Director’s Studio Screams Success

By Mara Shapiro

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Freshman Lila Gilbert in Stuck on the Seventh Floor - PHOTO BY BECKY DARLING

You know a play is successful when you are constantly hearing gasps and laughter from an audience.  This not only happened for one of the intriguing plays that I had the pleasure of seeing, but instead happened for all seven of the student-directed plays in Niles West Theatre’s The Director’s Studio.  I only saw seven out of the 14 plays that were put on, but I definitely wasn’t disappointed, and apparently neither was the audience.

The first of the seven plays was entitled Stuck on the Seventh Floor.  It was directed by senior Aleks Krapivkin and was actually written by senior Becca Levy. The scene started off with two female lawyers all decked out in business skirts and heels in an elevator. Kristen, played by junior Julia Zasso, seems self-assured and happy, while Tanya, played by freshman Lila Gilbert, seems nervous and scared. As the cheesy elevator music that we all know and love/hate plays, the elevator stops working. Now, the two women are stuck in the elevator together. There really isn’t much they can do besides talk, so they start chatting. It is discovered that Tanya is fresh out of law school and wants to get a job at Kristen’s firm. Kristen asks Tanya a series of questions to try and help Tanya impress the big boss. Gilbert played a very lovable character in that she made Tanya’s eagerness for law and how much she wanted to impress her boss relatable. When Gilbert talks about how when she was little she wanted to be on T.V. shouting “Objection!,” it really made you respect her character and laugh a little, too. After their chat is done, low and behold the elevator works again. The women get off, and as Kristen walks ahead she turns around and says something along the lines of, “Tanya, you’re hired.” This was truly a cute play that, although somewhat predictable with Kristen’s real role, made you happy from beginning to end.

Seniors Leah Hummel and Sarah Hernandez in Two Part Invention Photo by Becky Darling

The next play, directed by junior Katie Buckley, was entitled Two Part Invention. The scene starts off with two men drinking and eating in a restaurant. Max, played by senior  Sarah Hernandez, is the owner of a mouse-trap making business. Larry, played by senior Leah Hummel, is Max’s trusty light bulb salesman. Larry and Max go way back and Max is a loyal customer. Larry has got it in his head that Max will want the newer, better, longer-lasting light bulb that Larry has full stock in.  Hummel and Hernandez go back and forth with playful banter as Larry is desperately trying to sell Max the “better,” albeit more expensive light bulb. In the end Max just takes his usual shipment of regular light bulbs, and Larry buys him another drink as they are usually accustomed to when they have their rare, little get-togethers. This play was funny and stuck to what happens a with salesman and his customers who also happen to be his friends. Larry wants Max to buy these new bulbs in part to help a friend out. Max refuses but this doesn’t destroy their friendship. There were plenty of laughs from Hummel’s witty jokes, and the play was very enjoyable.

The third play in the lineup, directed by junior Joe Anderson and written by junior Quinn Lawson-Hall, was entitled Teenagers. It starts off with two teenagers in detention. Daze, played by sophomore Becca Gratch, wants nothing more than sleep. Evven, played by freshman Cameron Broderick, wants nothing more than for Daze to shut up. Mrs. Rubin, played by senior Christina Castro, is the teacher on detention duty at 5 in the morning and she won’t let Daze even lay her head down for a minute. Daze starts to argue with Mrs. Rubin, and many quips that I’m sure my fellow classmates appreciated were exchanged. “‘I’ve been in this town three years too many,” Daze says. “I’ve been in this school three years too many,” Evven retorts. This along with Daze constantly calling Mrs. Rubin a bro makes the play funny and definitely relatable. In the end Daze passes out on her desk, and surprisingly Mrs. Rubin does as well. Evven then sneaks out of the room and says, “Teenagers,” before he exits. This play was really cute and funny, overall.

The fourth play, directed by senior Becca Levy and written by alumni Jeremy Berman, was entitled The Interview. This play was definitely one of the more serious ones. Gray, played by freshman Daniel Bedoya, is in purgatory. He was a drunk driver who besides getting in an accident and killing himself, killed his wife, a little baby who was in the other car, and left his two kids without parents. Black, played by senior Ricky Havansek, is pushing for Gray to be sentenced to Hell. Havansek really got into the role by screaming and letting his anger show towards Bedoya. White, played by junior Sithara Vincent, is trying to help Gray get into Heaven. The play was very emotional and made you think. Drunk driving is a serious issue that we face today, and purgatory was an interesting way to portray it in a play. In the end Gray is sentenced to Heaven, which some people probably disagreed with. Overall, the play was wonderfully acted out and made you think.

The fifth play, directed by junior Cedes Sifuentes and written by junior Julia Zasso, was entitled Alice. The play starts off with a successful mother and father, played by sophomore Merrick McWherter and sophomore Viktor Gadjanski, sitting down to dinner with their straight-A teenage daughter, played by sophomore Sam Elkin. Tension is in the air as Gadjanski tells Elkin to work hard as he belittles her older brother, who is not at dinner with them. Elkin tells her parents she wants to matter in life and McWherter repeatedly tells her that she will. Elkin continues to badger her parents until she storms off to go drive somewhere. McWherter and Gadjanski converse about how they want nothing but the best for their kids. The phone interrupts them and it turns out that Elkin got in a car crash, and she was the one who got hit. The parents then rush to be at her side. Before they leave McWherter tells Gadjanski that she never got to tell Elkin how much she loves her. Gadjanski replies with, “She knows.” This play was definitely a cliff-hanger and made people want to see if Elkin survived or not. Superb acting by all three actors. The play was very entertaining.

The sixth play, directed by junior Anahita Karimi, was entitled Loyalties. This play was wonderfully acted out and was a bit controversial. It starts off with Monika, played by sophomore Ariela Leon, sitting down to a birthday dinner with her soldier husband Rudy, played by junior Steven Czajkowski, her sister Katrin, played by freshman Carly Tennes, and her poet boyfriend Jacob, played by senior Nikhil Nair. Rudy begins by saying how people are beginning to respect soldiers who were fighting in the war, rather than before they would hate them.  Jacob begins to argue with Rudy about war and patriotism. Rudy talks about his love for his country, whereas Jacob calls soldiers cowards. I would say that just about everyone in the audience, myself included, was starting to hate Jacob and feel respect towards Rudy. The fighting continues until Rudy punches Jacob. Katrin later gets in a fight with Jacob herself as he tells her he will be leaving her for Paris. Now the audience really hates Jacob. Katrin and Jacob leave the stage. Rudy then walks out, in a Nazi uniform. The gasps heard from the audience were of deep surprise. I don’t think the audience respected Rudy anymore. This play was very well done. It made your mind spin and had a nice psychological twist. When you didn’t see Rudy in a Nazi uniform, he sounded like a proud American soldier. You agreed with him, but if you saw him in that outfit from the beginning, it honestly wouldn’t have mattered what he said, you would’ve thought he was wrong. Wonderful play, but the topic was controversial and probably wouldn’t be recommended for little kids.

The seventh and last play of the night, written and directed by junior Quinn Lawson-Hall, was entitled Spades.  The setting is the Vietnam War. Esteemed singers Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison have just died. The radio announcer warns soldiers about protecting themselves against “the clap.” Right away the audience laughs. Then Corporal Jack Chitwood, played by senior Ravi Patel, and Lance Corporal Rob Flanagan, played by senior  Mikko Jimenez appear. They take the dead bodies to the freezer and make sure the bodies’ jaws are broken.  Jimenez and Patel are very funny. They battle over roaches and have playful jokes. They guys are in the middle of talking when a supposedly dead soldier, played by senior Sal Estrada, comes back to life. Flanagan and Chitwood are scared but later laugh the incident off. Unfortunately, with a lot of irony, Estrada does later die. This play focuses on two soldiers chatting and playing cards. It wasn’t a typical war play at all. I still wouldn’t recommend it for kids, what with the subject matter and the inappropriate language, but overall a wonderful play.

The Director’s Studio didn’t disappoint at all.  I laughed, my mind spun, and I gasped. The acting and directing were superb–and there honestly was a play for everyone. It’s amazing how entertaining the plays were with only 10-minute time slots. This was some of the best work yet from Niles West Theatre. The actors, directors, writers, and Theatre Director Andrew Sinclair all deserved those rounds of applause.