An unspecified Greek island five years from now, a contemporary college dining hall and a 1969 marriage counselor’s office are the diverse settings of three short plays written by Timothy Cooper ’02 under the catchy title “Ten Days to Better Kissing.”
The first, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” begins with a sensational discovery by a first-year grad student, Michelle. On a routine dig, she finds what appears to be a residual imprint in volcanic ash made by a boy with birds’ wings attached to his back — Icarus, fallen not into the sea, as the myth tells it, but onto a volcanic island. Michelle (Lauren O’Garro-Moore ’04) develops a sense of solidarity and proprietorship over the boy, imagining his life and family. But as news of the find leaks to the outside world — sparking sensational publicity — Michelle and the director of the dig (Colin Dawson ’04) break into conflict about how to handle the attention. Michelle is forced to confront her desire to make a name for herself and the strong possibility that the credit for her discovery will be given to others. As she muses, Raphi Soifer ’04 enters as the Icarus of her thoughts.
The landscape of the play is a pretty sparse one; a tent, a few camp stools and some equipment make up most of the set. Behind it is a screen, on which scattered words and phrases are projected at intervals during the show; a quick glance at the program — or an especially thorough background in English poetry — reveals that they are fragments of the W.H. Auden poem “Musee des Beaux Arts.”
The show raises interesting questions of academic credit, privacy and respect for even the long-dead, but ultimately it is too short to answer any of them. It ranges over a broad territory with suggestions of Michelle’s loneliness, a possible romance between the two researchers, and references to the elephant man, without clarifying or exploring any of them. For most of the play, it was even unclear what the actual discovery was — was it a boy with wings growing out of his back, or the mechanical device that finally seemed more probable? Perhaps this ambiguity was intentional, but it was ultimately only a distraction from the numerous other issues raised. The acting also lacked polish.
But things got better.
A trio of bubbly, babbling, self-righteous college students inhabit the next piece, titled “Post” and directed, like “Icarus,” by Cooper himself. As children of the baby boomers, “action” is to them “passe.” They are, nonetheless, eager to protest what they see as the main spectre haunting their lives: bad dining hall food. But post-modern consciousness ruins their confidence in this newfound cause, and their conversation degenerates into a ridiculous existential crisis. Cooper noted in the program that “Post” was “sadly” inspired by his experiences as a philosophy major. “What if I’m just under the illusion that I’m thinking this?” they ask themselves, traumatized. It is all a farce filled with easy one-liners. They are looking for a cause “like diversity, but not — if diversity were still a problem.” But as a depiction of the worst extremes of insulated college life, it is amusing and occasionally clever. Laconic Jonathan Smith ’04, confident, slightly ditzy Elana Firestone ’03, and passionate Elissa Yudofsky ’03 all did an excellent job keeping the pace lively. It was a one-note joke, but a funny one.
Directed by Ethan Guillen ’02, “Ten Days to Better Kissing” deals with a married couple, Victor (Noah Kaye ’02) and Kristen (Jennifer Thompson ’04), who seek the assistance of a marriage counselor after a minor episode of infidelity. As the two attempt to explain the incident — a sidewalk kiss with a total stranger — to a baffled and unsympathetic counselor (Rachel Grand ’02) they discover a new element of their own relationship — a fantasy life. It’s a relatively simple but charming and offbeat story with good acting. As the puzzled husband and unlikely wrongdoer, Kaye was excellent. Thompson pleasantly portrayed the somewhat repressed, understanding wife — a far cry from the usual “wronged spouse” figure. Grand was clever as the overbearing, judgmental outsider who gets drawn into the strange connection between her patients.
As a group, the three plays are uneven. “Post” was the most successful, but the goals it achieves so well are also simpler, especially compared to those of the first. By the end of the full show, one is left with still more questions — the stories seem no more connected than their disparate settings. Any intended overarching theme is obscured by the flurry of chatter and gag jokes that pervade all three scenes.
Ten Days to Better Kissing
Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.