The two students in the Advanced Directing Workshop presented two comic one act plays this weekend in the Frear Ensemble Theater. Al Bradbury directed “The After-Dinner Joke,” by Caryl Churchill, and Janice Im directed “Words, Words, Words” by David Ives. The plays were excellently performed by student casts to a packed house, even on a Sunday night.
“The After-Dinner Joke” is a sharp satire about Selby (Anna Belc), a woman determined to do good in the world by working for a charity, but finds that good works can rarely be detached from political action and capitalism itself, taking her on many exciting and absurd adventures. The title refers to the only method one can neutrally promote charity, rather than Selby’s more forceful suggestions (usually involving pictures of starving and/or dead babies). Originally written as a radio play, it has many, many locations and characters. Bradbury and her five person cast used a flexible set and lighting design (by James Murphy) to their best advantage, bypassing strict realism in favor of semi-abstraction. Bizzy Hemphill was especially effective as the mayor, and Mark Skaden was convincing as Selby’s boss. Joella Fink, Stephanie Duncan and Anne Kolker also filled a variety of roles.
“Words, Words, Words” is a crowd-pleaser based on a simple proposal: three monkeys typing on three typewriters will eventually produce “Hamlet.” The stage was strewn with bananas, crumpled papers and peanuts, and the three articulate but still clueless monkeys (“What is Hamlet?” “I don’t know.”) were played with terrific physicality by Mukethe Kawinzi, Amelia Templeton and Madalyn Baldanzi. The monkeys contemplate their captivity and the state of the universe generally, and their actions mirror those of Hamlet, often inadvertently quoting long passages. Though not the most weighty of plays, it is a very entertaining one, and gave a delightfully messy end to a humorous evening.