Section: Arts

Three thesis performances come to life in the Hill Theater

Three thesis performances come to life in the Hill Theater

Fred Rion '22, Delilah Draper '22, Owen Lloyd '22 and Ellie Kahle '25 in Private Lives. | COURTESY OF ZOE MILLER

Three performances took the Hill Theater stage this weekend: Private Lives on Nov. 4 and 6, and two one-act plays — Eggheads and Turn Signal — written by Jane Lindstrom ’22 and Cora Cicala ’22, respectively, on Nov. 5 and 7.

Private Lives amused the audience with its witty observations about the fine line between attraction and contempt. Sarah Groustra ’22 directed Noel Coward’s 1930 farce with a keen eye for the details of the comedic performance, keeping the material fresh despite its age. 

Owen Lloyd ’22 and Delilah Draper ’22 played Elyot and Amanda, a couple five years out from a bitter divorce who accidentally encounter each other on their honeymoons for their respective mismatched second marriages. Despite their best intentions, their chemistry immediately reignites. Not long after, so do their catfights.

Draper’s Amanda fought, persuaded and seduced with equal intensity. Lloyd played Elyot with the haughty tone and cruelty demanded of the character, but proved himself to be just as ready to be the butt of the joke. Impressive slapstick physicality imbued both of their performances — some of the best non-verbal exchanges outshined Coward’s sparkling dialogue. Though the script gave them less room to play, Ellie Kahle ’25 and Fred Rion ’22 admirably set up the central couple with their performances of the straight-laced, jilted spouses.

Design elements constructed the sophisticated world inhabited by the characters, a choice that heightened the contrast between the conventions of society and the ridiculous turns of the plot. Cheeky piano performances of jazz standards by Skyler Lesser-Roy ’22 opened the show and entertained during set transitions, and a decadent set designed by Katie Stevenson ’22 contextualized the opulent lives of the characters.

The actors’ energy built momentum that carried the play to its absurd but inevitable conclusion. Between the transatlantic accents and dense language, it was occasionally difficult to understand the lines spoken, but the motives and emotion to propel the play forward were always present. 

The other evenings featured Eggheads, a one-act comedy about a reuniting middle school quiz bowl team, the titular Eggheads, who encounter the pleasures and frustrations of competition, teamwork, friendship and wordplay. Written by Lindstrom  in fulfillment of her senior exercise in drama, the straightforward premise was delightfully textured with character-driven gags layered throughout the show.

Director Katie Stevenson ’22 kept the focus on the text and performances by presenting the piece as a staged reading. Lights and set were minimal, with the actors positioned downstage behind music stands for the entire show. Hank Thomas ’24 read stage directions, often comical in themselves, to illuminate the actions and subtext of the work that would be visible in a fully staged performance.

The ensemble animated the lighthearted script with gusto from behind their podiums. Sara Rosenthal ’22 played Reba, the protagonist and team leader who corrals the short-fused Tiger (MJ Farrell ’24), aspiring witch Mabel (Grace Jolliffe ’23), sardonic Sam (Max Kahn ’25) and nervous Archie (James DiSandro ’22) into a winning performance — but not without the ups and downs, dramas and schemes to be expected whenever a group of preteens congregate. 

Lindstrom balanced the characters’ stage time to allow each of them a moment of growth and personal victory. Farrell’s performance of Tiger unravelling a riddle that had confounded them since the first scene was a particular delight. The hyper-specific knowledge demanded by the quiz bowl premise textured the dialogue with non-sequiturs that never failed to surprise. The personal scale and lighthearted tone made for a satisfying 45 minutes of entertainment.

Following Eggheads was Turn Signal, a coming of age one-act play by Cicala about the two archetypal dramas of late high school: learning to drive and going to prom. Neither is straightforward for Annie (Julia Murphy ’25), who realizes she wants to attend prom with her best friend Violet (Margaret Doran ’25) and avoids that topic while driving with her prying mother Jen (Rebecca Holzel ’22). 

In contrast to Eggheads, Turn Signal was a fully staged production. Cicala, who also wrote the one-act in fulfillment of her senior exercise in drama, alternated between scenes in the car and Violet’s bedroom. Director Anna Hampton ’22 staged the scenes on opposite sides of the stage, forcing Annie to travel upstage to downstage as she’s torn between the different spheres. The only time Annie occupies center stage is when she’s stuck standing alone in the rain, literally and metaphorically. Atmospheric sound design by Stephanie Kaufman ’23 immersed the actors in the world: the downpour, slammed car doors and 80s pop solidified the emotional resonance of the scenes.

Murphy and Doran captured the “what if” energy of teenage flirtation. Though beyond her years, Holzel pulled off the character of the interested-disinterested suburban mom, and provided some necessary comic relief by relentlessly pursuing her familiar objective: trying to get Annie to wear her old prom dress.

Turn Signal played on themes common in many queer narratives, but stood out, almost subversively, for its understated moments. The final scene showed Annie confiding in her mother about being rejected by Violet. The ensuing lukewarm comfort offered by Jen hit an ambivalent note perhaps more realistic than the typical coming out narrative.

Whether a comedy or drama, full audiences showed up and responded enthusiastically to the artistic culmination of four years of work for the thesis students.

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