Dairy Queen was no longer human. Played by Cosima Cabrera ’14, she had transformed into a mute cow grazing in the fields, where Andrew (Derek Dimartini ’13) found her unable to reciprocate his love. He decides to kill himself by poisoning his DQ Blizzard, the drink they used to share in their rosy days of love.
A rapid series of 18 vignettes, “Moonshine & Lion Presents: A Night of Excellent Theatre” at the Davenport Auditorium is a wild pastiche of bizarre episodes. As the final products of the students of THST 321a, “Production Seminar: Playwriting,” the scenes had little in common but an emphasis on dialogue and absurdity — including strange circumstances (an anxious tomato that possesses a teenage girl after she eats it), or ordinary situations that become absurd as the plot unfolds (an everyday domestic dispute over eggs involves a ghostly Oprah).
As a staged reading — a type of theatre without sets, full costume or much stage movement — the performance emphasized the script itself (fitting for a playwriting class). It is a pedagogical tool for the writers themselves, who must focus on dialogue and pace. Hearing only voice required me to imagine elements of the plot and characters that aren’t on stage, and I felt a more intuitive sense of the characters than I’ve had watching fully staged productions. Certainly this was a result of the actors’ strong dialogue and incredible voice-acting abilities — Cabrera played both a bossy porno star director and a blonde with a husky voice — and also of the minimalist approach itself.
Characters both ordinary and inanimate took the stage. In one scene, a cucumber (Andrew Sotiriou ’13) disagrees with a tomato’s (Calista Small ’14) anxiety over his impending death on the cutting board; in the funniest skit, a man’s marriage depends on two moths (Ryan Bowers ’14, Nicole Davis ’13) chewing holes in his cashmere sweater.
You are thrown into the five-minute scenes immediately — often in a disorienting way such that plot details unfold only as the characters reveal them in their speech. In the tenth skit, Mike, played by Bowers and Dan (Gabe Greenspan ’14) open with Mike saying he “will be fine.” The audience realizes that he’s talking about his kidney stone. But Dan thought Mike had been rejected from the medical profession (Hospital? Medical school?), leading Mike to reveal that he had indeed received a rejection letter. He can no longer pursue urology, and now the fates have played the ultimate joke on him with the kidney stone. The sequential development of the plot gives the skits the pace of improv comedy, with jokes building on given situations.
Actors sometimes stumbled as they read off the script — they had not memorized the lines — and often laughed off mistakes in ways that interrupted the skits. They switched between roles in the vignettes that ultimately had no unifying theme, which lost me at times, and it moved too quickly to allow me to process the material. One skit had the characters talk about hiding a waterfall, with the waterfall emerging from upstairs to take its revenge on his captors. Perhaps that was intentional, or possibly comprehensible with more time to perform it before cutting to the next skit. But in spite of the hiccups, they successfully jumped into each character, which served to showcase their talents as performers.
“Moonshine & Lion Presents: A Night of Excellent Theatre” isn’t a clean, coherent production with a unified theme. But it is full of inventiveness and unleashed creativity, which “Moonlight & Lion” delivered with hilarity, fast pace and strong characterization.
Correction: Jan. 20
A previous version of this article misidentified Cosima Cabrera ’14 as Olivia Scicolone ’15.