Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

Student Theatre Fills the Zoo

Despite a lack of advertising, the Hepburn Zoo hosted a full audience for the Drama Lab on Friday, Oct. 24, presenting six student-written ten-minute plays. Featuring topics ranging from abortion to drug use to death to insanity, the plays demonstrated an impressive level of skill in playwriting, performance and production and delighted the audience with their unique wit, innovation, gravity and humor.

Katy Svec ’15 oversaw the event’s conception and production, working in the span of only three weeks to coordinate the final performance of each play.

“I wanted there to be an opportunity to get involved with theater in a smaller time commitment rather than leaping into a semester-long production, because not everybody has the time for that, and I really think that theatre should be accessible and open for people to try new things,” Svec said.

The evening began with The Trunk by Win Homer ’16, a play extremely powerful in its simplicity. Sam, played by Steven Medina ’17, and Mike, acted by Steven Zatarain ’15, are faced with a trunk left to them by a man who gave them money and told them to dispose of it right away. The imaginations of the men run wild as they envision increasingly outrageous contents of the trunk like a dead body or, even worse, a live person. Medina and Zatarain engaged in tightly choreographed physical blocking under the direction of Sally Seitz ’17, participating in multiple fight scenes with skill and emotion. Though it is only an unopened trunk, its possibilities tear the men apart, culminating in Sam’s vicious shovel attack on Mike and subsequent fit of rage against the trunk as he froths at the mouth in his desire to discover the contents. Though it is somewhat of a relief to the audience that the trunk only holds women’s clothing, the final scene, in which Medina looks to the sky yelling “Leave me alone” to the unknown voice in his head, proves a chilling psychological twist to the tale.

Involvement to participate was open to any students interested in the theatre community, though all of the playwrights have taken or are currently enrolled in Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Dana’s Yeaton’s Playwriting I course.

In Chocolate Cake by Marium Sultan ’16, Chelsea Melone ’15’s acting was particularly strong as a Eureka, a young and perhaps overzealous missionary who uses chocolate cake as a bribe to convert an unsuspecting passerby from the darkness to the Prophet Irake.  Paul, acted by Connor Pisano ’18, is one such passerby, on his way to his “well-lit frat house.” The battle of conversion that ensues brims with humor as Paul tries to convert Eureka to the ways of physical love through a kiss and Eureka worries that she will fail her first ever attempted salvation. In the end, the two realize that they are unwilling to compromise to join the other’s world, and the final scene fades on the two in an embrace and Eureka’s exclamation of her own name. It is not difficult to extrapolate the scenario of Eureka and Paul to larger conflicts of conversion, religious or otherwise, in the world, and the relatively easy realization and respect of differences shown by the youth in the play is certainly a lesson in understanding and the best example of the night of how a seemingly light-hearted subject can be crafted to represent more difficult issues.

The most clever play of the night, primarily due to its subtly, was, in my opinion, Snow Day by Erica Furgiuele ’15. The emotion of the piece built on an immediately established sense of conflict when the father, played by Sebastian Zavoico ’17.5, deletes a voicemail from a girl named Lily before she is able to state her business. A scene of conversation between the father and his son, Jacob, played by Josh Goldenberg ’18, distracts from any foreboding before Jacob prompts his father to open the door upon Lily’s insistent knocking. The father’s avoidance of Lily clearly denotes an ominous event, especially when the girl, played with increasingly honest emotion by Maggie Cochrane ’16, somberly returns a box of belongings to the father. It is clear that somebody has died, but as Lily continues to ignore Jacob’s presence in the room and finally references the boy in the third person, little gasps of surprise throughout the audience indicated that the character on stage speaking to his father was deceased. The poignancy of the script lay in the shocking revelation halfway through the work, coupled with Cochrane’s depiction of the emotional anguish of living with trauma and Goldenberg’s portrayal of Jacob’s calm wisdom from the afterlife. Zavoico could, only one or two times, have benefited from clearer diction, but the emotional pull between his character’s dead son and the living girl in front of him was always apparent on his face.

Svec emphasized her desire to make the production one of open access.

“During the casting process we tried to give people chances who had never acted before,” she said. “We sat outside Proctor for some auditions and asked students if they wanted to read a part, and I think that allowed for a great diversity in the casting.”

Seitz’s Over the Line featured some of the most natural acting of the evening with Caitlyn Meagher ’17 and Mary Baillie ’18 accurately portraying the late night party talk of girlfriends without simply acting like stereotypically overemotional and physically obsessed twenty-something females. As Katie and Rachel stumble into a bathroom at a party to discuss Katie’s decision of whether to accept a line of cocaine, their discussion escalates from girl talk to an argument over the girls’ increasingly dysfunctional friendship and the weight of each friend’s respective ‘problems.’

The simple set design, excellently chosen by director Vivian Sabla ’17 and stage manager Avery Travis ’18, allowed Katie and Rachel to be visible on one side of a closed door while Katie’s on-again, off-again flame, Matt, played by Austin Stevens ’18, made a drunken appearance on the other side, granting a comedy that nicely balanced the increasing severity of Rachel’s apparent cocaine and emotional issues. Entering in a lacrosse pinny, sideways baseball cap and continual smirk,  he played the role of intoxicated ‘bro’ to the audience’s delight, delivering minimal dialogue with excellent timing and tone. In addition, his performance was primarily physical, consisting of just the right amount of stumbling, fumbling and eventual dejection as he slid to a sitting position that turned to a full body crawl away from the scene. The smart visualization allowed by the door in the middle of the stage added to the juxtaposition of humor and depth, yet the ending of the work felt a little abrupt and may have benefited from additional drama besides the apparent shattering of the girls’ friendship.

The variety of roles available allowed students a unique exploratory experience.

“For actors, playwrights, stage managers and directors to get involved and figure out what theater is and what they want to do with it is a just a great chance to play,” Svec said.

Emma Eastwood-Paticchio ’15's Sleep Talk engaged the audience with serious intensity from the beginning, despite some comedic elements. Katie Mayopoulos ’18 played Lyd, a woman whose midnight sleeptalking alerts her husband, Tim, played by August Rosenthal ’17, to her emotional fragility as she prepares for an important meeting the next day. The couple’s confrontational conversation leads to the climax of the play, in which Lyd admits that she got an abortion without telling her husband. The play’s strength is the nuanced layering of Lyd’s dissatisfaction with the expectations on her sex, as she guiltily reflects on life decisions and countless examples of female coworkers she has watched fall down the corporate ladder after having children. Lyd’s guilt for making a personal decision is pervasive and avoids falling into clichés about women choosing between a family and a career, and Mayopoulos and Rosenthal maintained a high level of performance throughout the piece, never wavering in their emotional charged performances as each of their characters experienced their own disappointments and frustrations.

The last play of the evening, Dead Dennis by Nicholas Hemerling ’14.5, showcased the most effective combination of humor and gravity as well as the best acting partnership in Lee Garcia Jimenez ’18 and Spencer Watson ’18. Playing Phil and Bernie, respectively, the two men quarreled over whether to bury or cremate the dead man on the side of the highway, whom Bernie has named Dennis in honor of the pair’s deceased cat.  In the course of their argument, they grapple with larger questions of their own desires after death and who is granted the choice of making after-death decisions for a man who can no longer express his own wishes. Confusion and hilarity ensued when Dennis slowly awakened and fled from the scene while Bernie slept and Phil gathered cremation materials from the nearby materials. The strength in Jimenez and Watson’s performances stemmed from their collaborative ease, switching smoothly between natural comedic banter and more serious, but still humorously tinged, musings on the journey of a body after death.

Svec emphasized the benefits of having a variety of theatre events throughout the year to showcase a wide spectrum of student work.

“I think a free theatre event is unique, as the process of obtaining a ticket often discourages people from coming out,” she said. “This format openly invites people to drop by and see really exciting work that’s happening at the student level.”

All six plays possessed their own strengths that made for a fresh and exciting presentation enjoyed equally by students and families in the audience. In all, 35 students showcased their budding skills in writing, producing or acting, and the polished pieces of work that made it to the performance felt more professional than student-driven, displaying the great potential and artistry of students in all stages of their student careers.

Upcoming productions at the Hepburn Zoo include a show by Iron Eyes Cody on Oct. 30 and Getting Out, a play directed by Rebecca Coates-Finke ’16.5 from Nov. 6 to 8.