Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Theatre in the Raw Delivers Professional and Engaging Weekly Plays

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

A project run by the theatre department’s Directing II class, “Theatre in the Raw” is a largely overlooked but fascinating program.

Every Friday afternoon, two new groups from the class each put on a short play that they have condensed, casted, produced and performed entirely independently of teachers or instructors. These plays have been cut from their original hour and a half to two-hour entirety to short 30- to 40-minute performances.

On Friday, April 12, David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Crazy Eights” and Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries” were put on in front of the audience.

“Crazy Eights,” a comedy about an off-kilter and confusing romance between an ex-convict and her parole officer, was performed in the Rand Theater. This location has a slightly misleading name that brings to mind a grandiose stage, but this is far from the reality. The Rand is a tiny, enclosed and scarcely lit room. The stage is floor level, putting the actors face to face with the audience, who sits in rows of densely packed folding chairs. This intimate setting proved beneficial as it allowed the audience to see each and every expression made by the three actors: Matthew Brown, Geehae Moon and Kyle Arrington. Directed by Christina Marie, “Crazy Eights” featured an engaging (and delicious) preshow.

Upon entering the space, audience members helped themselves to bagels, navigated through piles of newspapers, witnessed guitarists busking, and heard the sounds of the subway played through the theater’s sound system. This made the audience feel at home in the atmosphere of the play: New York City. Matthew Brown, who played the nosy but good-natured parole officer, could be seen moving around the set in character. The short play was funny, engaging, and crackling with urban energy.

Following “Crazy Eights,” the audience was required to move from the Rand Theater to Studio 204 for the second play. This location was even smaller than the first. Studio 204 has a stark and simple lighting system, which enormously benefited the expressionistic nature of the second play, “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

In keeping with Theatre in the Raw’s tendency to serve food before the play, audience members entered the space to find Girl Scout cookies placed on the seats. The performance featured actors Anna Englesman and Daniel Cuff playing childhood friends who later shared a romantic interest, based on Cuff’s character’s tendency to get horrifically injured. What followed was a devastatingly well-acted story of love and loss, told through nonchronological sets of events in the lives of the two characters. Lighting effects indicated transitions between scenes, and in these transitions, Englesman and Cuff moved the pieces of their set to construct new settings and changed costumes onstage, thereby demystifying the theatrical process.

Daniel Kadish, director of “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” illuminated the complexities of the Theatre in the Raw project. Kadish said that he and the nine other directors in the class spent weeks working with the text of their play. The process of cutting the length of the show may drastically change the stories. This means directors have to work closely with the story to avoid inconsistencies, and ensure that the events of the story make sense.

Kadish said the process is tough.

“I … kind of [tailored] the story … It was just [about] trying to make the story still have an emotional arc without losing … the integrity of the story,” he said.

Cutting the show makes acting decisions difficult. Anna Englesman said she had a difficult conversation with Kadish and Cuff that ultimately resulted with the decision to keep the cut script independent of the lost material. After scripting decisions were made, the team had 10 rehearsals together. They worked with very little time and materials until their first rehearsal in the performance space, which was last Wednesday.

“We had no set, costumes, props – nothing until Wednesday,” Cuff said.

All of their costumes were taken out of the actors’ own wardrobes, in order to cut down costs and increase the realism of the play. The production of the play was entirely left up to the three-person team.

Generally, Theatre in the Raw puts on a comedy first and then a drama. Kadish said his professor decided this so “people would laugh and be excited to come back for more. Then we can break their hearts.”

Although some plays may be heartbreaking, they are masterfully performed and definitely worth seeing every Friday.  On Friday, April 19, audiences can see “The Most Massive Woman Wins” written by Madeline George and directed by Becca Griffing, and “Debate” written by Ethan Coen and directed by Alex Dunn.

Elise Martorano can be reached at [email protected].

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