For those who have never attended the DU Department of Theatre Senior Capstone Festival, it is a unique theatrical experience. During Spring Quarter each year, graduating theatre majors direct their own short plays that encompass ing the skills they have acquired at DU and showcase the talents of their peers. Capstones fall into three different cycles, and Cycle One concluded performances on April 16 after sold out shows and a phenomenal start.
Cycle One featured five short plays alternating between the JMac Black Box and White Box theatres. Changes between shows were smooth and short, allowing viewers to stay in “audience mode” while still taking a moment to revel in emotion and mentally transition to an entirely different play. Each was distinct and thoroughly enjoyable for audiences, whether they were left disturbed, confused, shocked or joyful at the end.
The production began with Emily Schwend’s play “Halfway,” directed by senior Katie Walker. It had a cast of only two, featuring Kat (Rhianna DeVries) and Melissa (Shelby Lynhall) working with a simple White Box set of a kitchen. The play portrays a conversation between the two women who, as dialogue progresses, we come to know more and more about: they are sisters who have not seen each other in quite some time, the visit takes place at a halfway house and Kat currently resides there as she recovers from a long history of traumatic substance abuse. They discuss past, present and future, and the audience learns the heartbreaking story of a woman on such a long and strict road of recovery that, according to Melissa, her young daughter no longer remembers who she is.
The words between them are incredibly authentic and true; the pair sits and eats Oreos—all that Kat has to offer Melissa as food and drink—and the audience members squirm in their seats during uncomfortably lengthy pauses and the awkward interactions of the sisters. DeVries and Lynhall were strikingly real. “Halfway” is the most realistic of the five shows in Cycle One, and the ideas of recovery, family and love really hit home.
“Variations on the Death of Trotsky”
David Ives’s short play, “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” hardly could have differed more from the first show. Senior Liz Butler took on directing this odd, humorous and thought-provoking play that stood out as a favorite for audience members. The show chronicles the assassination of Leon Trotsky, famous Marxist, politician and revolutionary leader, which was a rather strange affair. The real Trotsky had an axe split into his head by his gardener of the time, Ramon, and did not die for a full day after the almost-botched assassination attempt. The play conveys different versions of the day after. Trotsky (Jack Trembath) has an axe in the top of his head when his wife (Grady Hicks) reads in a modern day encyclopedia that the axe hit will kill him any moment. Puppet shows, plot twists and other strange occurrences take place, including the appearance of the killer, Ramon (Jose Serrano), a hilarious caricature of a “Mexican communist.”
The show was funny, dark and clever, switching tones between pure smark comedy to intense profundities. One particularly striking line was, “Gives you a little bit of hope, doesn’t it? That a man with a mountain climber’s axe in his head can go on to live another day?” There were audible reactions from the audience in both the hilarious and the serious moments of the play, and the wit and weight of it was overall indescribable.
“Mary, Mother of God, Intercede for Us”
DU senior Nicole Seefried directed Theresa Rebeck’s “Mary, Mother of God, Intercede for Us.” The play stars Evan Monteith as Mary, the mother of God, as she reports a list of those who have prayed to God and for what. It’s a one woman show, with Mary simply communicating with God as an unheard-from light spector above. She begins with simple requests like drought relief or war protection, which God makes no promises for. Then, she tells God of a woman raped by her step-brother and needing an abortion. God seems to scorn and rebel against this. Mary seems to be a bit frustrated, but moves on. The final case we hear is that of a priest asking to be transferred to a different church after molesting young altar boys; he “heartily apologizes” for what he calls an “indiscretion.” To Mary’s shock, God grants the criminal priest his prayers, and the play ends.
“Mary, Mother of God, Intercede for Us” was hilarious and incredibly smart. For such a short play, it made some relevant commentaries about religion, abortion, assault and the overall corruption of the Catholic Church. The script itself was amazing, and all the students involved brought the uncomfortable and clever show to life.
“Please Report Any Suspicious Activity”
This play was both completely normal and entirely unreal. It opens to an unnamed man (Jack Anderson) on the bus as he sits and reads. Then, two dolphins (Mikah Conway and Erik Frederiksen) board the bus. Antonio and Dirk (the dolphins) are clearly in a pretty turbulent romantic relationship. They quarrel, one on either side of the awkward man, about their trip to the aquarium, Dirk’s shark ex-boyfriend and other issues. The two dolphins argue heatedly but eventually work out their issues and get off the bus.
Rosa Wariner directed this play by Rick Park, and it was delightful to watch. Aside from the fact that the main couple in the show consisted of two male dolphins, it was rather normal. If you close your eyes and ignore the fish puns, it may have been an average, everyday couple. They dealt with issues like love, romance, jealousy and history as any couple would; they just happened to be homosexual dolphins. It sounds odd, but the cast was hilarious and heartfelt in both words and body language, and it was definitely worth the watch.
“Two Conversations Overheard on Airplanes”
The final play was senior Evan Mues’s project entitled “Two Conversations Overheard on Airplanes,” a play by Sarah Ruhl. Set once again in the White Box, the play showed four people (Anthony Adu, Mary Grace Roach, Kevin Douglas and Danforth Webster) interacting, as the title implies, on an airplane. Four incredibly different people had two strikingly weird conversations, and their personalities are all revealed piece by piece until complications lead to the plane crashing.
Through a diverse group of characters, the short play tackled issues like race, politics and age rather fluidly, and it was something quite special to see the interactions between them. This play, out of all five, probably left the audience most confused and shocked, as Ruhl’s plays are known for being somewhat eccentrically artistic. After the plane crashed, the lights rose again to the sight of all four characters wearing thick masks of flowers. They remove them one by one and shake hands with each other, feeling the silence of an audience struck with the beauty and strangeness of such a moment.
While Cycle One has ended, don’t miss the upcoming performances and the chance to experience the students of the DU Department of Theatre at their finest. Cycle Two runs from May 3-7 and Cycle Three from May 23-28.