Descent into darkness: Spring Senior Studios

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Rachel Polzer and Samual Pate star in Zeina Masri’s production of “Purgatorio.” Photo by Elizabeth Herrera.

If you came to this semester’s Senior Studios expecting stories as fun and lighthearted as this semester’s Mainstage, “The Liar,” you would have been in for a surprise. If you had settled into your seat in the Margaret Jonsson Theater hoping to be shown stories filled with happiness and brimming with laughter, then you might have been disappointed. If you showed up with nothing more than the expectation of incredible storytelling, unforgettable acting and impressive theater, then you were in the right place.

The studios began with senior Jacob Heimlich’s telling of “The Dumb Waiter,” starring junior Noah Kersting and freshman Paul Bond as two hitmen biding their time as they wait for their night’s instructions to arrive. There are several laughs throughout, but there is also a building unease as the audience is led toward an uncertain climax. The tension of the play sees even the main characters each break down into nervous fits.

Kersting and Bond play off of each other incredibly well in moments both comedic and dramatic. The play is one that keeps the audience on its toes throughout, beginning with a drumroll that leads us into an innocuous scene of the two men lounging in a room and ending with a standoff and a blackout that jumps into the upbeat jazz music of “Caravan,” juxtaposing the intensity of the moment before.

Even the identity and motives of the operator of the dumbwaiter at the back of the set are uncertain until the very last beat. Heimlich does a fantastic job at toying with the expectations and attention of the audience, moving from moment to moment with erratic control, keeping us interested and wondering what is going to happen next until the very end.

The second play, senior Ellie Dimitry’s version of “Hello Out There,” starred freshmen David Morales and Bernadette Roden in the leading roles as a falsely accused prisoner accustomed to wandering freely from town to town and the prison cook who has never left her birthplace, respectively. Both are lonely in their own ways and, over the course of the play, slowly realize that they may have found the person who is willing to be lonely with them.

For this to be accomplished, however, they need each other’s help to be freed of their current situations. Unfortunately, time is running out as members of the neighboring town approach the jail with the intent of taking the law into their own hands, and it’s unlikely that they will be willing to listen to the prisoner’s story.

Despite the lighting being the only marking of the boundaries of the jail cell, Dimitry makes the stage feel as though the actors are confined to their respective areas while still so close to freedom. Indeed, when Morales and Roden share the stage, the cell walls begin to fade away, but when one of them leaves the space, the walls are reinforced, trapping them once more.

The third and final play was “Purgatorio,” directed by senior Zeina Masri. It opens in what seems to be an asylum or mental institution of some kind with a doctor, played by junior Samuel Pate, and a crazed patient, played by senior Rachel Polzer.

They are in the afterlife, and the doctor’s job seems to be to get his patient to confess and repent of her sins so that she can be reborn.

During the course of their session, the audience learns that the woman’s crime was the murder of her father, brother, children and husband’s second wife.

Rather than giving a genuine effort, however, the patient is content to play games with the doctor and push the blame and focus onto her husband, the man who played and betrayed her.

Suddenly, they stop and switch roles with Polzer becoming the doctor and Pate becoming the patient.

He is the husband, and he is in the same predicament as his wife. He seems to be making more progress, however and, after a little more soul-searching, his doctor informs him that he is ready to take the next step.

He becomes the doctor who must redeem his wife, and learns that the circle can only be broken when they are able to fully heal each other.

The play ends with the two of them realizing that the process will take forever. Neither can leave until the circle is broken, and so forever it must be.

Polzer and Pate act their dual roles to perfection and Masri’s directing is able to pull the audience in from the very beginning and does not let go until a few seconds after the play ends. This masterclass in theater was a work of art from top to bottom.

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