Senior studios showcase excellent directing

Maria D’Anselmi, Contributing Writer

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Senior directors Simon Lemaire, Esther Sequiera and Stephen Thie celebrate a successful run of Senior Studios. Photo courtesy of Stephen Thie.

The Countess Cathleen

The dark atmosphere of Esther Sequeira’s “The Countess Cathleen” trembled with sinister mystery.

The play follows a famine-struck Irish village as two demons, disguised as foreign merchants, attempt to buy the souls of villagers.

This tale of sacrifice, greed and devilry was meticulously staged by three spirits, played by Hope Gniewek, Mary Armato and Mara Borer, who moved the set seamlessly. Green and gold tapestries framed the stage, which was excellently decorated with rustic wooden props. The music and sound effects brought the audience into the fairy-tale world.

Sandra Twetten played a strong and regal Countess Cathleen, gaining the audience’s sympathy. Playing a royal and virtuous character without being boring can be a challenge, but Twetten won the audiences’ hearts.

Gregory Frisby as Shemus also kept the show from dragging. As a greedy, conniving character, Frisby never lapsed into cartoonish acting but was harsh, confident and humorous. Shemus and his son Tieg, played by an enthusiastic Jack Gilloon, provided comic relief. Their contemplable characters were always welcome and delightful.

The strength of this play lay in its multidimensional actors. The merchants, played by Ed Houser and Zaina Masri, had a charming side that deepened their villainy.

Sequeira excelled at directing inspired performances from her actors and relaying Yeats’ powerful message with artistic staging and a closing song that left me in tears.

Flowers for Algernon

Anyone who has seen “Rain Man” or “Forrest Gump” knows that successfully playing a mentally handicapped character is a challenge. James Dean beautifully portrays Charlie Gordon, a young man with warm heart, snarky sense of humor and special needs. He has an I.Q. of 68 but undergoes an operation that makes him a genius, thanks to his teacher Alice Kinnian (Mary Hinze), and Dr. Jayson Strauss (Michael McInerney) and Professor Harold Nemur (Paul Lewis).

This play explores the fight of science against nature and ambition against morals.

Dean’s sincere performance and thoughtful delivery also relayed a comedic tone. His honesty made us see the world through Gordon’s eyes and wonder if perhaps, even without his operation, Gordon knows things we don’t. For example, we laughed at him observing people’s inconsistencies, because his comments were both true and sassily delivered.

Instead of being a victim, Gordon is a character to admire. Since the audience was invested in him from the beginning, the rise of his intellectual power and the dangers he faces cause true suspense and tension.

Simon Lemaire’s slick staging had a 1950s science-fiction feel, with Lewis’ and McInerney’s larger than life characters contrasting brilliantly against Dean’s. Tony Spurgin was refreshing as the good-natured Dr. Burt Seldon in a natural and charming performance. Hinze brought heart and heartache to the play along, with some fabulous outfits.

This play was satisfying emotionally, intellectually and visually because the director and actors packed a lot of story and character development in a short play without making it feel rushed.

Wanda’s Visit

Nick Moore and Rachel Polzer play Jim and Marsha, a couple in a dead-end marriage who are visited by Wanda, Jim’s high school sweetheart. “Wanda’s Visit” opens with a delicious scene of passive-aggressive banter between Jim and Marsha.

Polzer brought a jaded air to Marsha, and her disparaging looks rendered silent pauses pregnant and piercing. Moore was suitably middle-aged and displayed a lurking superiority complex that peeked through at all the right moments.

Ellen Rodgers’ performance as Wanda was nothing less than comedic genius. With wide-eyed innocence contrasting raunchy, scandalous and downright hysterical anecdotes, she reduced the audience to side-splitting laughter with every other line.

Stephen Thie has a remarkable gift for directing comedy and very rarely did the timing and pacing miss their marks. His scene transitions, which included Wanda jamming out to popular dance tracks, were nothing short of brilliant.
This enhanced the feeling of invasion as Wanda and all her craziness wreaked havoc on both the stage and the University of Dallas’ moral sensibilities. “Wanda’s Visit” won’t be leaving me any time soon.

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