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Review: ND Theatre NOW!

| Monday, October 6, 2014

WEB_nd theatre nowSara Shoemake
Notre Dame is less homogenous than it once was. Two student-written, -directed and -acted plays that opened last week are a harbinger of our campus culture’s growing richness.

ND Theatre NOW! sponsored the production of the two one-act plays, each written by senior Film, Television and Theatre and English majors, which debuted Oct. 2 and will run until Oct. 12 at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Lucas Garcia’s “Out of Orbit” is a new take on the coming-out-narrative told from the perspective of an overbearing, conservative mother. Directed by Anthony Murphy, the play stars Nandi Mgwaba as Nora, the typically conservative mother, whose controlling nature caused her daughter, played by Simone West, to avoid her for years and her son, played by Eric Ways, to hide his bisexual identity from her.

The strength of the play lies in the powerful interactions between characters. The dialogue was very real and very poignant. Certain relationships between characters produce tangible chemistry. West and Mgwaba nail the quarrelsome mother-daughter pair. Anthony Baglini nails his character as the father, complete with dad-like voice, inflections and facial expressions. Lovers Joseph and Anthony, played by Ways and director Anthony Murphy, feel like a real couple.

“Out of Orbit” is short and sweet: the play portrays the social stigma and difficulties of coming out of the closet for a whole family, but is more of a snapshot of a family than a story about being bisexual. As the title suggests, there was an overarching solar system metaphor for the dynamics of a family, reminiscent of something Lorca would write.

In one scene from “Out of Orbit,” Nora, the mother, talks to Anthony, her son’s boyfriend, as he waits to use the bathroom. In a highly relatable awkward conversation-to-have-with-your-boyfriend’s-mom moment, Nora asks if her son loves Anthony. Anthony says yes and reveals that he doesn’t say “I love you” back. Nora is offended that her son doesn’t get an “I love you” in return.

Anthony is clearly torn, not knowing if he’s ready to say “I love you,” while his boyfriend is showering oblivious to the excessively inappropriate conversation occurring outside. The audience is reminded that some struggles are common to all romantic relationships no matter the sex or sexual preference of the partners.

After intermission came the program’s second one-act, Zachary Wendeln’s “Beneath My Skin.” Directed by Joey Doyle, the act centered on Thomas, played by Paul Kuczynski in middle age and Jacob Schrimpf in the character’s youth, and his struggle to come out during the uber-conservative early 1960s and again in the AIDS-wrought ’80s.

Scene by scene the play flips between the ’60s and ’80s, weaving together a story about Thomas and his first homosexual lover Marshall, played by Kelly Burgess, and his changing relationship with his sister and daughter, both played by a snarky, snappy Emmy Schoenbauer.

There are also two sympathetic beard characters in the play, both portrayed by Caroline McKee, and the actors’ double in roles created obvious parallels between the roles fulfilled by their characters.

Every scene begins with a song, cueing the audience into the decade. I have to applaud Wendeln with his music selection — every song fit the emotion of the scene perfectly and could be considered a classic with little debate.

The play draws a comparison between protagonist Thomas and poet W.H. Auden, which is particularly pretty and tragic when Auden is quoted in a scene. The dialogue in “Beneath My Skin” was beautifully written, flowery, pensive and highly quotable.

The play seems to make a few references to our school’s own culture when it depicted the conservative 1960s. Thomas attends a Catholic university and watches his lover “ring-by-spring” a female student. The falsity, and the forced and unwise nature of the gesture is palpable to the whole audience.

Both one-act plays, “Out of Orbit” and “Beneath My Skin,” are incredibly well acted and well written. The production was intimate and special. Sitting in a small audience at DPAC, it was clear how much talent was concentrated in these performances.

Each play felt essential to the Notre Dame community. Its actors said things that were uncomfortable, and I felt uncomfortable watching many scenes because of how much pain was expressed. Both acts felt like taking the bandage off a wound and letting it greet the stinging air.

Notre Dame’s LGBTQ community has come so far in just the past four or five years and the ND Theatre NOW! production stands as a testament to progress.

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About Emma Terhaar

I'm a Junior English and Spanish major hailing from Lyons hall. I like to write fiction and poetry as well as my contributions to the Observer Scene section. If I had to summarize my life for someone who didn't know me I would say: my life is a series of awkward encounters. My passions include eating, napping, working out, lounging, and all other comfort fulfilling activities. I pride myself on being a great conversationalist, nearly great enough to make up for being such a mediocre dancer.

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