Wednesday, January 24, 2007

THIRDeYE Theatre Festival

The annual THIRDeYE Theatre Festival [sic], presented by the UC Davis Department of Theater and Dance, features three new plays by three undergraduate playwrights: Rachel Skytt, Natasha Tavakoli, and Kellie Raines. All three plays will be performed on each night of the festival, which will continue January 25-28 in Wyatt Pavilion Theater.

The plays are created in the Playwriting and English courses at UC Davis and the actors, designers, stage managers, and crew are all undergraduates, many performing their role or task for the first time.

The evening opens with “Over the Line,” by Natasha Tavakoli, directed by Amy Kronzer. While all the actors throughout the evening were excellent and I would be hard pressed to find a weak link anywhere, this particular play had some of the strongest performances. It is unfortunate that the script itself had the most problems.

Tavakoli set out to create a political drama which dealt with issues of immigration, relationships between parents and children, and between lovers, and a myriad of topics which, crammed together into a short one-act piece became sensory overload. There was no time for development of relationships or completion of scenes. Meals are served, eaten (or not eaten) in one bite and dishes immediately removed from the table. Parents arrive from Mexico, after a harrowing trip across the border to the home of a daughter they have not seen for years and the mother has no time for pleasantries; she only wants to go to bed. The Mexican mother emotionally speaks to her husband, complaining that he refuses to answer her in English.

Despite the problems with the story itself, this play had wonderful performances, particularly from Alma Ruelas, as Maria, the heroine of the piece, who may have given the strongest performance of the night. Her boyfriend Eli was played by Mike Yost, who likewise turned in a solid performance.

Matthew Moore’s performance as Eli’s father, Hank, was good, but his character was less believable because he looked more like Eli’s renegade brother than his father, a danger when all members of the cast are roughly the same age.

Christina Moore gave a sympathetic performance as Maria’s mother, Esperanza.

The second play was “Saving Trophies,” by Kellie Y. Raines, directed by Orion Al-Shamma-Jones. As a person who saves “things” in excess, I found I could relate to this story about a Sofia (Melanie Levy) who has a passion for collecting, cleaning, and displaying old trophies. “It’s about the way we all give pieces of ourselves to each other in small moments. It's in the pieces that we try to find something whole, something worth saving,” explains the author.

Levy’s seemingly strong performance was marred by her lack of projection so that too many of her lines, and thus the plot points, were lost, which is a shame because I was most impressed with her involvement with the character, a woman with a broken heart filling the space left by her former boyfriend with these trophies that she incessantly polishes.

Carolyn Hodson had no projection problems as Lozzie, Sofia’s lesbian friend who tries to make Sofia understand that she needs to get out into the world and live her life. Lozzie is that very rare character, an incapable lesbian. When Ken (Daniel Reano-Koven [Derrick--your computer won’t pick it up in an e-mail but the “n” in Reano should have a tilde over it]), a street person who has come into the shop where Sofia is polishing her trophies, collapses, it is Lozzie who doesn’t know what to do and leaves Sofia to handle the situation.

Rounding out the evening was “Baetylus” by Rachel Skytt, directed by Travis Dukelow. The death of a classmate was Skytt’s inspiration for this play about Felix (Daniel Hakim) whose fiancee Annabelle (Rebecca Backer) is the victim of a drive-by shooting. Hakim skillfully handles the conflicting emotions of a man trying to find meaning in life and struggling with his desire to hang onto the past and his growing affection for Babette (Jessica Herman). “If you don’t have a ‘now,’ you will never have any more ‘pasts,’” Babette tells him.

Shea McWhorter is delightfully ditzy as Mrs. Allen, an old woman mourning the loss of her beloved dog. The believability of the character is due as much to the costume design of Jennifer McEwen as the acting ability of McWhorter.

Jade McCutcheon is Artistic Director for this year’s festival. Scenic designers are Sam Hardie (Baetylus), Chris Lee (Saving Trophies) and Cary Babka (Over the Line), each of whom creates a pleasant environment, with Babka’s apartment particularly lovely.

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