The Freshman Four showcases budding talent
Maria Smith | Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Every year as Notre Dame theater says goodbye to its seniors, the Student Players are busy breaking in the next generation of actors and directors.The Freshmen Four plays give some of the best actors of the freshmen class a chance to showcase their talent for the older actors and directors in University’s various dramatic groups. The one-act skits are also directed by freshmen, offering students a chance many of them never had in high school or other drama groups they might have been part of in the past. Student directors choose their own skits and apply along with other directors for one of the four slots. Making the cut isn’t easy. This year the producers chose the directors from over 20 applicants, and over 50 freshmen auditioned for 16 roles in the show. For the freshmen who do make the show, it’s an exciting chance to explore the possibilities of college drama.This year’s show features four sharply contrasting scripts. The skits move from serious and dignified drama to bawdy off-the-wall humor. Actors and directors alike have done an excellent job developing the scripts and bringing out the particular charm of each one. The energy and variety in the show make it one of the most entertaining performances on campus this year.”The Tale that Wagged the Dog” by Tim Kelly is a somewhat ridiculous story about composer Johann Strauss’s valet, who contrives to make extra cash selling supposed souvenirs of the composer to his legions of enamored fans. Strauss, who lived in the mid-19th century, was actually considered a heartthrob by the fashionable women of his age, and the eccentric elitists who were so impressed with the dashing composer appear in all their glory in the Freshmen Four plays. The fans rave, cry, beg for locks of hair and parade around in an assortment of dresses more than ridiculous enough to suit their characters.”It’s fun because you don’t have to worry about being too over the top,” said Michelle Lewis, one of Strauss’s groupies. “It’s completely in character.”Director Kevin McCarthy was initially worried about his ability to direct a show on his own, but is more than satisfied with the results. Before directing in the Freshmen Four, McCarthy’s directing experience was limited to a Spanish version of Snow White in his junior year Spanish class.”I was really concerned I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but the cast has been so eager and ready to work,” McCarthy said. “It’s gone amazingly well.”One of the most distinctive characters in the show is the valet’s proverb-spouting wife Trudi, played by Nikkie Masciopinto.”I see her as a mixture between Lucy from Peanuts and Lady MacBeth, two very important literary characters for me,” McCarthy said. “She commands the action whenever she’s onstage.””Wanda’ Visit” by Christopher Durang is the most entertaining of the four plays. The playwright has a reputation for extreme characters and dark humor, and uses both to their full extent in this skit.The play opens with a straight-laced and predictable couple who probably own tasteful dining room sets and entire wardrobes from Banana Republic, but cannot capture the spark of a happy marriage. Jim and Marsha are on rocky ground before Jim’s ex-girlfriend from high school comes to visit, and when Wanda arrives nothing gets better. Wanda is, as Jim says, “a magnet for trouble,” and although her tales of her life since she and Jim parted ways leave serious doubt as to her sanity, Jim finds himself intrigued by her energy.Mary Levy’s campus debut as Wanda is not one that will be easy to forget. Levy falls into the over-the-top role completely naturally and makes the entire skit outstanding.”I get to be this crazy lady that says all the things we wish we could and acts out of decorum and think that I’m fine,” Levy said. “It’s great to be able to do things and not worry about the consequences.”Levy’s costume works extraordinarily well to enhance her character. The freshman found a floral jacket in a costume closet at home, and dressed it up with her mother’s jewelry from the 1980s. Four of the six people involved in the skit are from Texas, and Levy described the costume as being based on the wardrobes of tacky Texas ladies.”At auditions she did the massage scene with Adam, who plays Jim,” co-director Connor Woods said. “They had such good awkward chemistry that it really worked.”Co-director Kaila Crowley chose the skit precisely because it is so outrageous.”It’s a crazy balance between being ridiculously offensive and hilarious,” Crowley said. “It only took one reading [to choose].””Impromptu” by Tad Mosel takes a philosophical turn after the riot of “Wanda’s Visit.” The play features four actors who have been called in to give a performance without a script and with very limited guidelines. They are only instructed to perform a play that “is life” and not to leave the stage until they have.Under pressure the actors quickly begin to bicker. The introspective Tony, jaded Winifred, sugary Lora and self-confident Ernest struggle to find common ground and to try to construct an impromptu drama that will indeed be life. Although Winifred initially assures Tony that “soul-searching is the lowest form of entertainment,” this ultimately seems to be the point of the exercise not only for the actors but for the audience.”The point is probably just to break down the walls,” director Molly Kealy said. “The actors obviously have walls, but even the audience has walls.”For Kealy the directing the play is not only a pastime, but also an experiment in a field she might want to pursue. “I’m a theater major, which is the closest thing to a directing major here,” Kealy said. “There are a couple of directing classes – this department does a lot of preparing you for everything.”The layers of the play present a challenge for the actors, who have to portray actors both in and out of character.”It’s a totally different style of acting – it’s hard to make people act like they’re not acting,” Kealy said.”English Made Simple” by David Ives provides an introspective end to the show. The skit examines the seemingly endless layers of meaning that can lie behind the simplest phrases. Ives especially examines what lies behind the superficial small talk exchanged at parties and in public where sometimes it seems one face could instantly be changed for another.Patrick Vassel and Emily Sladek portray Jack and Jill, the couple used to expand on all the personal stories that might lie behind a simple hello. Both play their roles with all the sincerity and emotion the skit requires. Drew McElligott helps enhance the meanings of the words as the professorial Loudspeaker. The three actors have sharp timing and stage interaction, which is vital to the tightly constructed script.Director Sarah Loveland has already been part of six campus productions this year, including acting in “God’s Country” and “Spike Heels” and doing technical work for “The Glass Menagerie” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Loveland was forced to drop out of the Not So Royal Shakespeare’s Company’s production of King Lear when she became ill, and had not fully recovered for the rehearsals of “English Made Simple.” Loveland relied on a dedicated cast and crew to get her through the show.”It’s gone wonderfully well,” Loveland said. “I have one of the most talented casts I could ask for, and my stage manager knows everything.”Losing the seniors of the drama scene is always sad, but if the actors in the Freshmen Four stick around through their time at Notre Dame the quality of theater won’t lag.”There are a lot of fun freshmen,” Crowley said.”They’ve got a good group here,” Woods said.