Wilkes students and faculty members unite for a diverse, inclusive kick-off to the 2012-2013 theatrical season.
A middle-aged housewife working to resurrect her dreams of thespian stardom. A group of college students unwittingly caught up in the conflict of the 2006 Lebanon War. A wedding party in in which the attendees are thinking very different things than what their smiling faces imply.
Any one of these premises could easily carry a full three-act play by itself. But in “New Shorts,” the latest Wilkes University theater production, they’re all just pieces of a greater whole.
“Some of the plays are funny, some of the plays are disturbing and some of the plays are really, very sad and even kind of gut-wrenching,” Naomi Baker, an associate professor in the Theatre Arts Department, said. “I’m going to be really surprised if anybody’s bored.”
Baker is directing two of the seven one-act plays – each written by Obie Award-winning modern playwright Israel Horovitz – that make up “New Shorts.” Associate Professor Joseph Dawson is likewise directing two, while Director of Theatre Teresa Fallon is directing three.
The production runs in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts from Thursday, Sept. 27, through Saturday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m, and on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.
Demonstrating their stylistic diversity, the seven tales that make up “New Shorts” alternate from dark drama and sweet sentimentality to sardonic dry wit.
All of them, Fallon said, are told with a sense of mystery meant to keep audiences guessing while they simultaneously explore heavy themes like death, prejudice and self-identity.
“These are thoughtful plays,” Fallon said. “There’s something interesting about human nature in each one of them. They say something about the human condition.”
If variety is the spice of life, then “New Shorts” promises to rank pretty high on the Scoville scale. In addition to showcasing seven different stories, the production will also bring together a cast of almost 20 students, which is notably large for a dramatic production according to Dawson.
Furthermore, Dawson said, with “New Shorts” bringing together not only the directorial trio of Fallon, Baker and Dawson, but also a large cast composed of actors and students of every experience level, from freshmen to seniors, the production acts as an ideal start to the new theater season.
In being such an inclusive production, Baker added, this inaugural offering helps cement a feeling of family among everyone in the Theatre Arts Department.
As if directing two one-acts wasn’t enough, Baker will also act in a third. One reason for this is simply to bring a measure of realism to the play: The role Baker fills is that of a character intended to be much older than any of the others. By playing the role herself, Baker feels the in-story age disparity is illustrated more clearly.
Another reason, however, is that it provides students a unique learning experience, allowing them to rehearse and act side-by-side with a seasoned theatrical veteran.
“I’ve been doing this for forever, since before these students were born,” Baker said with a smile. “I bring a very different sensibility to things than they do. I think it’s really good for them to be able to work with someone who’s got that kind of experience.”
When Baker joins her students onstage for “New Shorts,” though, she won’t be alone. Adding to the already idiosyncratic nature of the production, audience members will be seated on the stage itself, scant feet from the performers. As such, seating is limited, but Dawson believes the effect the approach has on the audience is more than worth it.
“These plays are intimate in nature, so the closer the audience is the more they will understand the play,” he said. “They’re short plays, ranging from ten minutes to about a half an hour. You only get a glimpse of some of these characters. Doing it this way is just right for the material. The audience can see facial expressions up close and the actors don’t have to project so much.”
“The plays here are idea-driven, rather than image-driven,” Fallon said, agreeing. “It’s not about spectacle.”
Admission for “New Shorts” is $15 for the general public, $10 for Wilkes alumni, $5 for seniors and students. Wilkes students with valid college ID will be admitted for free.