Last night I went to Cal Poly to see three one-act plays. Directed by students, starring students. The results were as one might expect, uneven. I love that the students chose obscure plays, plays that rarely see the light of day, and in some cases probably shouldn't. I love that in this instance the plays were wildly different from one another.
The first holds promise for light entertainment anywhere. Called "The Philadelphia", it's about a young man who comes down with a condition called a Philadelphia. Whatever he wants, he cannot get it. If he wants to take a taxi to the Bronx (this takes place in NYC) the cab doesn't go there. IF he wants a burger, the restaurant doesn't serve that. He learns from a friend that he can get what he wants by insisting on its opposite, and he's happy in this discovery. It's a lighthearted piece, short, imaginative (also refers to conditions known as "The Cleveland", "The Los Angeles", and so on), easy to put on, all set in one place, a diner.
The second play was "Tigerlillies Growing Out of Season" and is about a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer and how she grows through her confrontation with the disease and treatment. This play has a million tiny scenes, interweaves the present with the past, has players walking on and walking out constantly. I thought a more experienced director might have been able to smooth out the scenes, make it blend better. As it was, I was getting a kind of visual whiplash from the sudden changes in lighting, the walk-ons of robotic characters who suddenly clicked on and off, the wandering of the main character inappropriately in her hospital gown... It may be that the play needs to be rewritten to be staged more comfortably. Clearly it's a work of love, not always a good thing. In this case, though, the star of the play was very very good. Of all the characters she truly came across as real, dimensional, willing to take chances. She is only a second-year theater student so I expect we'll be seeing more of her, and I look forward to it.
The third play was, I guess you'd say, avant-garde. Named "Calling for Help". I overheard a student from the audience explaining it to someone else on the way out - "See, it's metaphorical. All the things they say are not direct, they seem okay until you listen closely, but when they finally call for help, that's clear, direct, and they get a response". The play features several actors, all dressed in black, who cavort around the stage, making little scenes or tussles, yelling out phrases that we might see on signs or in legal documents or cautionary statements: "Move to the Left". "Proceed Cautiously". In spite of being subjected to a glut of such statements last night, I am remembering none. Whenever one cast member called out one of these statements, another would answer with "No", in varying tones, volumes, types of emphasis. I became increasingly irritated with the thing, felt it went on far too long, when finally a couple of the cast members were somehow injured and they called for help. And were answered with "Yes". Lordy.
Fun, though. Funny to see things like this. A "real" theater might not put it on, except way off Broadway, but these are experimental excursions that can be entertaining in many ways.
The plays are part of a one-act festival. There are many others that have already been done or are to be done in this next week. I hope to see one more set of three. It's good, cheap live entertainment, done in small rooms that accommodate about 60 audience members - mainly other students, plus parents, meaning a hugely enthusiastic crowd, something else I love about Cal Poly productions.
Today I will be taking in a concert at the PAC, also Cal Poly students. Beethoven's mass in C, among other things. Three p.m. I know the choral works will be terrific, because Tom is such a terrific director, and with his captive students he really gets the job done. The other things, who knows, fun to find out. Again, inexpensive, live. If I were really up for it, there is a showing at nine tonight of three more plays, two of which are written by established good playwrights. I would have stayed to see it last night but was too tired. Probably will be tonight as well.