Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THIRDeYE Festival

The University of California Davis Department of Theater and Dance is presenting its annual THIRDeYE Theater Festival, showcasing the work of three talented student playwrights and three student directors at the Wyatt Pavilion Theater, through January 27th.

The plays are written in various UC Davis playwriting and English classes, some taught by Jade McCutcheon, reprising her successful 2007 role as Artistic Director for the festival.

Kellie Raines, who wrote last year’s delightful “Saving Trophies,” is back for her second THIRDeYE experience. This time it’s “Miracle Fish,” directed by Jason Masino, and inspired by a story from the Internet about a pair of men in London who found a fish they claimed had the word “Allah” on it. The men put it on display and people came to view the fish, nicknamed “Miracle Fish.” From this Raines formed the central theme of her play which is how we often look for answers or signs in objects and ephemera that are man made.

Heidi Kendrick is Samira, an aspiring writer suffering from writer’s block and wracked with guilt over an issue which is not revealed until midway through the play. She seeks guidance from a “Magic Eight Ball” (“Should I have told him no?”) Kendrick shines in this piece, nicely conveying her frustration and her reliance on outside objects to give her a sign that will help her make major life decisions.

Thomas (Kevin Ganger), with whom we assume she is romantically involved, arrives with his friend Matt (Roth Wiedrick). The men had been at a club and on their return home during a big storm Thomas asserts it began raining fish. A fish with the likeness of Jesus on it landed on their car windshield and the men plan to put it up for auction on eBay and become rich.

While Matt and Thomas are in the bedroom watching the bids on eBay rise, Samira’s former boyfriend, Steven (Mark Ferrando) arrives. Steven apparently dumped Samira for his Uruguayan boyfriend, Eluid (Nathan Lessa). Revelations are made, decisions are made, and Samira finds her inspiration in an unlikely place.

Scenic design of Samira’s apartment by Kelsey Nix, is particularly nice.

I didn’t feel nearly as bad during intermission following the second play, “Brigid’s Reign,” by John Crosthwaite (directed by Cary Babka), when a large group of people sitting next to me huddled and compared notes, trying to figure out what the play was about. I had difficulty following it myself. While the 8-member cast is strong, the combination of their Irish accents, Wyatt acoustics, and my seat on the side of the stage rather than in front made it difficult to catch large parts of the dialog, which made it nearly impossible to follow the plot.

The play was inspired by testimonies and legends surrounding the Troubles of Northern Ireland from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's. Seannan (Daniel Reano-Koven) loses his wife (Gia Battista) and daughter Brigid (Bridgette Davis) as a result of the violent Irish conflict. Reano-Koven brings an intensity to the role which underscores the pain of his loss, the depth of his guilt, and the anger which fuels the conflict that rages within him.

Seannan and his friend Jared (Bryan Marcus Pham, who has one of the best of the Irish accents)) come to America to stay with relatives. Katie Hulse gives a wonderful performance as Casey, the mother of the transplanted Irish-American family. Cory McDaniel, Ulysees [sic] Morazon and JT Reece are Casey’s sons. "Secrets drive the family apart, but experience brings them closer," says the playwright.

What do the ghosts (the afterlife in general having a huge impact on the play) have to say about the outcome of the living? I’m not exactly sure–and my seatmates at Wyatt Pavilion weren’t sure either!

“Ghost, Bathtub and Windmill,” a comedy by Elise Kane (who appears to have a particular love for bathtubs, as her performance art piece last year was entitled “The Bathtub Experiment”) was directed by Daniel Guttenberg,

Its nine-member cast is headed by Figg (Brian McFadden) and Czewski (Erin Cookston), the ghost of a Polish Holocaust victim, now working as a costumer in a New York theater. McFadden is wonderfully droll and Cookston gives a gentle dignity to the ghost of this little costumer.

Matt Moore is also quite funny as Alastair and Kelly Fleischman sparkles as the diva, Echo. Others in this excellent cast include Geoffry Jenson as Clifford, Alison Stevenson as Minnie, and Stephanie Hankinson, Cody Messick and Daniel Storrow as Producers.

The bathtub features prominently and is the location for some of the funnier bits of physical comedy.

THIRDeYE Theater Festival has once again shown us that talent is alive and vibrant at the Department of Theater and Drama!

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