Tag Archive: Dramat Ex

  1. England’s Wilde West

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    The brief musical interludes you hear during the set changes in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the Dramat’s Fall Ex which opened Thursday night, are mostly classical piano — the sort of whimsical, evocative music most strongly associated, at least in this reviewer’s millennial mind, with Harry Potter movies. The selections are oddly sentimental for so ruthlessly witty a play, but they also effectively transport the audience to 19th-century England, so they do the trick.

    But as the lights come up post-intermission, the tinkling piano notes are not the work of Handel or Purcell: We hear an instrumental version of Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” an inspired choice in that it locates Wilde’s analog in contemporary pop culture: Despite his admiration of Steve Jobs, Kanye’s real forerunner is Oscar Wilde. Plays don’t have mass appeal today, and hip-hop didn’t exist in 1895, but Wilde, like West, was an unapologetic aesthete and brazen cultural critic whose flamboyance compensated for a defect of seriousness. Crass sexual humor is another commonality.

    Perhaps this production is a little more West than Wilde. Where British humor is usually associated with a deadpan delivery reflective of that society’s stiff upper lip, West is blunt, passionate and often angry. He’s a renowned entertainer and also a bit of a clown. Likewise, under Miranda Rizzolo’s direction, this cast hollers, shrieks, rolls their eyes, jumps onto furniture and otherwise hams it up. Which isn’t to say it’s bad. Rather, it’s a joy to watch, and there are wonderfully choreographed and tremendously energetic scenes. The actors have an exaggerated physicality: The women, for example, are forever holding things out toward men, haughtily looking the other direction, expecting the contents to be taken off their hands. Appropriately enough, the actors mostly stick to American accents. Some speak with a faux-British elocution, and one or two veer into and out of nationalities.

    Algernon and Jack, played by Otis Blum ’15 and Adam Lohman ’18 respectively, make a lively and likeable pair as two young bachelors, each romantically interested in a relative of the other. Gwendolyn, Algernon’s cousin, played by Lauren Modiano ’17, illuminates the stage with her strong comic presence (even if she does rely a little too much on tics, like screwball facial expressions and nervously fast talking). Lucy Fleming ’15 is convincing as Cecily, Ernest’s ward, bringing to her character the apathetic affect of a text-messaging teen. The pastor (Skyler Ross ’16) has a pleasantly Woody Allen-ish demeanor.

    There’s a standout here, however — one character whose sterling portrayal is beyond all reproach: Lady Bracknell. Played in drag by Eric Sirakian ’15, Bracknell is the play’s most enduring creation, and Sirakian’s performance is a memorable blend of terrifying and preposterous. His icy, disgusted glares and moral outrage are perfectly calibrated.

    “Earnest” stands the test of time. Sure, barbs directed at three-volume novels or society dinner parties can fall flat, but themes of hypocrisy, social climbing, romantic love, sex and religion have no expiration date. Not many plays are funnier.

    In a play overflowing with aphorisms, epigrams, zingers and disses — exposing pomposity at every turn — the cloying last line, famously impossible to pull off, feels like a final “f– you” from Wilde, not to the characters but, at long last, to the audience. From Wild, though, it feels like a heartfelt send-off. And as the lights go down on the awkward silence that follows, one feels like Cecily when she says, in a line brimming with the play’s signature irony, “The suspense is terrible; I hope it lasts.”

  2. Powerful Vulnerability Anchors “Dry Land”

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    Watching “Dry Land” is like diving back into the tumultuous days of high school, when conversations circled around sex and gossip, lunch time segregated jocks from nerds and letting your guard down meant revealing a part of yourself you wanted to keep hidden from the critical eyes of other teens.

    Written by Ruby Spiegel ’15 and directed by Henry Gottfried ’14, “Dry Land” opened in Iseman Theater on Thursday night as the Dramat’s Spring Experimental Production. Taking place almost entirely in the locker room, “Dry Land” is sparse not only with its set — the play takes place almost entirely in the swimming pool locker room — but also with its characters. Only four ever appear.

    The play opens with Ester (Lucy Fleming ’16) socking Amy (Calista Small ’14) in the stomach in the locker room — but she does not seem to do so out of wrath. In fact, the very act of punching Amy is so out of character for Ester, that after a few blows, she refuses to continue. Amy, we discover, is pregnant and desperately wants to get rid of the baby, but cannot get a legal abortion because she is under the age of 18. She skims through the Internet for questionable do-it-yourself abortions, which include swallowing detergent. Blonde, tall and beautiful, Amy is presented as the very image of the “popular girl” with a side of flamboyance and excessive sexuality. Her confidence, though, hides an insecurity that is only hinted at and never fully manifested. Ester, on the other hand, has a subdued but quirky sense of humor; she is shy, but upbeat.

    Amy had only turned to Ester because she’s worried her close friend, Reba (Simone Policano ’16) — who is apparently so cool she can kill a deer and post a status about it to Facebook that gets 100 likes — might tell her father. Then the whole world would know about Amy’s baby. At first Amy seems to exploit Ester for her meekness and compliance, reminding her that Reba is a closer friend (and that she gets free cavity fillings from Reba’s dentist dad). And Ester remains loyal to her friend, even as she deals the stress of getting recruited for swimming by Florida State University.

    Despite being one of the most disciplined and talented swimmers on the team, Ester is also the most modest. Fleming poignantly portrays how she, who at first appears as a simple and straightforward character, actually holds a more complex darkness beneath her poised and meek façade.

    At some parts of the play, it’s easy to feel annoyed at how self-centered and cruel Amy can be to Ester, and she seems always to have an air of superiority. Small’s performance emulates the image of that girl we love to hate, but does so in a way that makes her beautifully human and flawed. When Ester visit FSU, she learns from Victor (Jacob Osborne ’16), a mutual friend of Amy, that Amy is not as confident as she appears to be and has some deep insecurities that trace back to even before high school. You also learn that the father of Amy’s child is now dating a freshman softball player. Amy, meanwhile, is dealing with the both physical and emotional pain of having a do-it-yourself abortion that has been stretched out over the course of 13 weeks.

    The animated conversations between Ester and Amy at first seem superficial and entertaining, but they reveal the developing friendship between the two girls. Although they do not realize it at first, they both struggle with letting their guards down. Neither overtly expresses their appreciation for each other, but during the scene in which Amy offers the first genuine gesture of love toward Ester, you kind of feel like choking up.

    Laced with punch lines and Mean Girls-esque humor, “Dry Land” is both hilarious and intensely moving. As funny as the characters are, they can also be destructive, insensitive and incredibly human in their vulnerability. Coming out of Iseman, you feel the weight of witnessing Amy’s burden (especially in one gruesome scene), but also gain a renewed sense of appreciation for those friends who supported you in high school.