Around the World in 80 Days- Hedgerow Theater

 

Valancy is a struggling actor and impoverished producer of feminist work

 

I knew very little about this play going in, never having read the Jules Verne novel or seen the movie, but I was definitely expecting a hot air balloon and kept looking at the ceiling to see if they were rigged for it. I had several friends in the cast of this production and am familiar with Damon Bonetti’s work as a director; I know he has a penchant for this kind of bare-bones, fast paced farce, having previously directed the similarly structured “39 Steps” at Hedgerow a few years ago. I was prepared to laugh, although this genre of comedy is not my favorite, since it depends so heavily on the versatility of the few actors and their rapid-fire delivery of the snappy dialogue.

 

I saw the opening performance, and while the actors I know and love did not disappoint, a little of the confidence in the text that comes through repetition was lacking. However, these moments of hesitation were few and the majority of the production felt polished, like the tracks of a well-maintained roller-coaster. Sarah Knittel and Mark Swift, in particular, kept the action rolling with their exquisite timing and precise physical comedy skills, the former as the delightfully innocent and well-intentioned French side-kick to Jared Reed’s hero, and the latter as the dogged yet dim Detective Fix, who follows the pair around the world in a bizarre and hilariously extreme case of mistaken identity. Both actors are adept at the twisting language that would trip up most.

 

Jared Reed acted as a perfect foil to the hyper-activity of his co-actors with a wonderfully controlled performance as Phileas Fogg. I was also impressed by his transition from the opening curtain speech, as himself, to the sudden chaos of the play itself. It’s a popular gimmick in Philadelphia at the moment, to have the lead actor display his expertise by delivering the curtain speech and then sliding into the first lines of the play, and I usually hate it, because there’s not enough of a membrane between reality and fantasy. And I want the fantasy. I already know you’re a talented actor; I don’t need to see how effortlessly you can move from conversation with me to dialogue with a co-actor. However, Reed paid his audience the compliment of maintaining that fragile membrane and allowing us to shift into the action as he did.

 

One of the great stars of the show was the collaboration between set, props and actors, and I’m not sure to whom the credit belongs, although I suspect director, Bonetti, is responsible for the concept. I love contemplating maps, and so to have a large, wall-sized map of the world as a backdrop, with nearly invisible doors which hide prop cupboards, was divine inspiration. As an actor, it gave me prop malaise, fearing a door would be opened to reveal nothing… or worse still, the WRONG something. I needn’t have worried, because every time an actor pulled another square of map open, the item he or she sought appeared as if by magic. And magical it was.

 

But for me, the most magical moments of all were a result of how the cast transformed the one set-piece, an odd-looking box on wheels. It became boat, desk, elephant, train and anything else the scene required. Wonderfully creative storytelling, thanks to set designer, Shaun Yates, props designers, Susan Wefel and Juliet Grey, and the entire cast, who took us on this journey of discovery, making us laugh and hold our breath in anticipation, by turns.

 

The sound design by Aaron J. Oster added just the right amount of punctuation to the self-consciously melodramatic moments of the play, from the sound of swooshing arrows as the train is attacked by a war party, to the “ta-da!” chords everytime someone made reference to the title of the play, “Around the World,” to the iconic notes of Law and Order when the hero is ordered to appear before a judge. These moments in the soundscape gave me the sense I was in on the fun, and I found myself anticipating the next such moment with glee.

 

I loved the 1870’s costumes by Janus Stefanowicz, particularly Sarah Knittel’s French dandy, Jared Reed’s elegant, aloof gentleman and Hanna Gaffney’s transformation from Indian princess to corseted English society lady.

 

I applaud the ambition of this production and am finding that I’m not such an enemy of the minimalist farce as I once was, when directed well and performed with confidence. I appreciate the gender blind casting that allowed Sarah Knittel to shine as Passepartout, and am glad that in this instance they chose not to make the character a woman, but gave Knittel a mustache instead. A female companion would have been too forward thinking for an upright Victorian gentleman like Fogg. It was, for me, a lovely nod to past and present mores and gave me a sense of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go… particularly in matters of race on stage. Naturally, because, as the title suggests, the story involves a trip around the world, and there are only five actors, certain actors are called upon to play races and ethnicities not their own. This would not be a problem, if the cast itself had diversity. As it was, there were moments the comedy felt inappropriate, and I held my breath hoping for the least offense possible. I acknowledge that the geography of the theatre plays a role in how diverse a company they are able to assemble, but it’s important to me to see the attempt being made. And I’m not seeing the attempt yet at Hedgerow. I know they can do better, and I’m eager to see them do it.

 

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Perfect Blue- Tiny Dynamite

Connie is an actor

JG is a performer and devisor

El is a director 

Connie

So what was in your pockets?

 

JG

My pockets were a quarter full having been acquainted with Tiny Dynamite and having worked with Jorge before. I’d had a restful day coming up to it and had read the description. You?

 

Connie

I, too, am familiar with Tiny Dynamite and have worked with Emma before. I was walking in with an interest in how the 2 actors on 2 continents connected by internet would work.

 

El

I know or have met most of the people who worked on the show. I have favourable impressions of them all, they’re very nice.

 

JG

The piece felt like a cautionary tale or a wicked episode of Black Mirror come to life.

 

Connie

Yes! I had the very same thought half way through that this had a very Black Mirror feel. The perils of technology because technology is still being used by people, who are very imperfect.

 

JG

Very imperfect I’ll second that. I wanted to have character I connected to or liked more than the other, but they were both incredibly manipulative.

 

Connie

I agree. The way I experienced the script was that there’s this huge global catastrophe, and we have two people who we’re told love each other on different ends of this conflict. But about halfway through the play, I just didn’t understand why they would even still be talking to one another.

 

JG

I feel looking back that the love was already hanging on by a handful threads at the beginning.

 

El

I agree. The marital tension felt the same the whole way through, so the journey wasn’t theirs. It was the war’s and the technology’s.  I think that the problems with consistency in tone is partly a fault in the script and partly in direction.

For example why does the opening scene between the two of them show her working and barely paying attention to him? And it happens again in the trying on clothes scene. If they’re not paying attention to each other then why should we care about the relationship? When two people in a relationship skype internationally you’d think they’d engage more, unless they were already on the skids.

 

Connie

And that overall lack of love short-changed the final scene. If these two people had started off close and been pulling away from each other the whole play, by the time we got to the end there would have been a feeling of shock. It just wasn’t there for me. 

 

JG

Yeah. I hear that. However, I was intrigued by who was responsible for the end scene. I suppose both sides could be implicated in how the manipulation/oppression of genetics and free will come to a head. I did feel a  flash of recognition in the final scene. I was curious to know what happens after.

 

El

Me too. I really liked that final scene.

 

However, I felt like they were talking about the husband’s impending death relatively casually, that was a little weird for me. I was left wanting more from the story.

 

Connie

Absolutely, but I think script quibbles aside, the play felt successful to me. I really enjoyed Emma Gibson and Harry Smith together. I think both of them gave strong performances even though they were in different places.

 

JG

I quite agree the performances were strong. I also enjoyed that each had a different spacial challenge. Half theater, half house play.

 

El

I’m going to push back here. I thought the performances were strong but as I said above I was not a fan of the direction and some of the design choices.

 

The scientist character played by Emma Gibson was stranded in a grey box without anything to play off of except that science-table thing, which wasn’t used as fully as I would expect from the single furniture piece. I have seen her perform before and she’s great, but I felt like she was left working against her blocking here. She’s standing awkwardly most of the time, which is not how people skype together, and that front screen obscured her face a lot.

 

Connie

Speaking of screens, what did you think of the technology aspect of having an actor on another continent, doing the performance there via video connection? That’s what I heard the most about before coming in to see the show.

 

JG

There were notes of  Big Brother all over the place: screens in walls and cameras in every room. To me nothing felt out of place or unnecessary as can often be the case with projection.

 

El

I agree, the projections felt central in a great way. I was confused by the choice to put the husband on a giant screen high on the wall, effectively a huge TV?  The actor, Harry Smith, did a great job of emoting at the right intensity for that size of screen, he was compelling despite how much I disliked his self-righteous character. But the placement and size of that main screen made me feel like he was the focus all the time, which wasn’t helped by Emma Gibson’s face being obscured.

 

And in the scene where the son is taken, we were denied her face all together. That frustrated me.  I got all these close-ups of the husband’s face, but just the back of her head in what was arguably the central scene. I’m so sick of male character’s emotions being presented as more important than female character’s, I see that all the time in Philadelphia and did not expect it from Tiny Dynamite.

 

Then it was great to have Emma’s character’s presentations about her work and the company, and I thought Gibson kept those big expositional texts moving well, especially when she connected with the audience. But why wasn’t she in charge of the projections, for example? I wanted her to have more agency there, too.

 

I guess this all comes to the fact that I felt like there was a lot done to minimize her both from direction and design, which I’ll admit I’m sensitive to. I’ll be clear that my quibbles are not with the quality of the design, rather the overall effect of the choices made.

 

Connie

I thought Jorge Cousineau’s design was carefully crafted. I loved the coolness and spartan design of the theatre space juxtaposed with the warm chaos of a lived in house.

 

El

I do agree with that. It was a good choice to differentiate the characters visually, I liked that unusual choice of the house a lot.

 

Connie

The lights, sound, video, and costume worked together in way that really stuck with me. This was a team that really tapped into the vision of this play.

My favorite part of the entire design was the outer framing of the stage with the opaque plastic sheeting with vines on it. It gave me greenhouse vibes, but also reminded me of the plastic sheets you see in disaster movies when there’s a bio terrorism event.

 

JG

Yep. The theatre set was very sterile. I loved how the house changed as well from inviting to empty. The direction was also solid, navigating all that terrain and time.

 

El

This was totally an ambitious design that made a world successfully and cohesively. I also liked the vines behind the plastic, and think Jorge Cousineau is a detail-oriented genius. It simply added up to a frustrating world for me, despite the cohesion, for the reasons I said earlier.

 

JG

I keep circling back to the script, like could this be the second part of a trilogy. Part one is all about their love in set in a park with them together and part three is a cybertribunal.  I’m so curious. Also a scifi fan.

 

El
Yes, more scifi plays please! The technology and the world-building will stick with me for a long time. Good on Tiny Dynamite for trying something new.

 

Connie

I hear you both.  I’m a sucker for a scifi story, particularly about how technology isn’t the cure for the problems of humanity. Technology only does what the human behind it tells it to do, and this is a story about a company literally recrafting the world, for a profit, but in the name of saving it for future generations.

 

JG

I’m pretty sure that company already exists.

 

Connie

Oh yes. And I started thinking about how you change this to scientists working for Pharma or the Healthcare Industry and it still feels the same. The perils of making money off our planet and the welfare of humanity.

 

JG

In any world, even with the best laid plans, expect only the unexpected.

 

Connie

I couldn’t agree more.

 

The Jaws Project/The It Girl- Plays & Players

Nan is a cis woman & actor.

Espie is a queer multiracial director and producer.

 

NAN

Pockets?

ESPIE

Not a ton – I saw Jaws Project when it came out last year and had enjoyed it.  I was really looking forward to seeing this iteration.  Nothing in my pockets for It Girl.  How about you?

NAN

I also saw Jaws Project last year and reviewed it for Bonaly, and was interested to see if/how it had changed in time. And I also had nothing much in my pockets for It Girl, other than a rough idea of who Amanda Schoonover is as a member of the Philly theatre scene– I’ve only ever seen her in Anna K at EgoPo. How did you find this new/ish iteration of Jaws Project?

ESPIE

I really enjoyed it!  Similarly to the first Jaws Project, I thought the use of space was fantastic.  I also really appreciated the changes that were made to the piece from the first time around.  I thought the increased focus on Brian and Marjorie’s relationship made for a tighter story.

NAN

I also definitely still loved the same things about it. Mary Tuomanen, Robert DaPonte, and Sam Henderson do a LOT with extremely minimal costumes, lights, sets, et cetera, and it’s really exciting to see them do so much with so little. I felt like they had the time to really round out the final arc of the story this time around, and it was really lovely to see. It was such a well-made play already but they filled out the ending this time in a very satisfying way.

ESPIE

Yes!  I really enjoyed them jumping ahead to the future for the ending – it felt like a very cinematic mode of storytelling translated to theatre, like we were seeing the montage that would happen at a series finale.

NAN

It did. I actually think it would work very well for the screen as well, which is pretty rare for plays, I think. I think very cinematic plays often don’t work very well onstage, but maybe this gives off that sort of potentially cinematic vibe because it is so very pared down technically and visually?

ESPIE

I think so.  The low budget awareness paired with the cinematic storytelling in a way that really highlighted the shitshow that was the filming of Jaws.  For example, the use of the bike pump as the blood pump for the shark combined with the dramatic choice to have Brian (Robert Daponte) more upstage and Sam Henderson’s character shouting orders in a separate space, really got the point across about the stakes – that the shark was not even close to a perfect creation and that was NOT a good for the movie.

NAN

Yes! The low budget quality worked really well for the show as well as drawing great parallels with the subject matter. It’s also such an actor-centric show as well, which I love. It’s essentially a two character love story with a third actor who plays every other part. And watching Sam Henderson work in those roles is such a pleasure. With only rudimentary props he creates a score of characters– from Steven Spielberg to Marjorie’s tow trucker dad to the woman writing opinion pieces for the paper (and also moving the plot along).

ESPIE

Agreed – I want Sam Henderson’s Barbara to narrate my life (or at least a week of it).

NAN

Yes PLEASE.

ESPIE

I also really appreciated that his interpretation of a female character didn’t involve using a high “girly” voice or sticking out his check to pretend there were boobs.  

NAN

Yes! I was also really interested to see them integrate projections, this time. I wouldn’t have guessed they would attempt it because their production aesthetic is so pared down and projections are, I think, usually the most involved and complicated component of anything. But in a play about a movie it was done really simply and elegantly. I think we may not have gotten the full effect because the actors were sitting in front of the screen looking out at the audience as if watching it from there, and we couldn’t quite see their faces from where we were sitting? But I appreciated the choice.

ESPIE

I thought it was smart that the projections were obscured a bit by the actors every time – I think the satisfaction of being able to sit back, disengage from the piece and watch a movie clip was not the intent of the choice.  We were being asked to engage in the behind-the-scenes stories of those affected by this industry and I thought that gesture really highlighted that.

NAN

For sure. Also, as someone who (still) hasn’t seen either Jaws or the favorite movie Mary mentioned, it was sort of nice to get a glimpse of them, even though the scene wasn’t about the film showing, but rather the people watching it.

ESPIE

This is nitpicking, but I didn’t fully understand what the point of the Jaws Project was.  I kept trying to draw parallels between the story they were telling and gentrification, but other then that I just felt like it was a fun night out at the theatre.  

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NAN

That’s true. I think if anything its themes of insider/outsider and class issues were what I was picking up, but the play wasn’t really about either of those. I don’t know if there was an overarching theme they really wanted to talk about that really came across to me, actually. It was a love story.

ESPIE

Yeah, I didn’t feel like they were trying to talk about anything overarching. Wanna move on to It Girl?

NAN

Sure. Definitely an interesting choice for a double feature– both plays about movies and the people that make them.

ESPIE

Yes.  I also, like that both stories dealt with the making of not just movies, but truly iconic movies and iconic actors.  It made the stakes in both pieces feel related which I enjoyed

NAN

For sure. That said, I think It girl is almost as aesthetically different from Jaws Project as it can possibly be. There are a lot of great costumes, many music cues, and a lot of projections, in addition to lights and props. Jaws Project is really just dialogue, and It Girl has no speaking at all.

ESPIE

I thought Jillian Rose Keys’ costumes in particular stood out for It Girl – they were simple and did a great job of conveying the progression of Amanda Schoonover’s character.

NAN

For sure. It’s not easy to costume a period show with that much movement that beautifully, much less on a budget! The costumes did everything needed, told the story well, and looked fantastic.

ESPIE

Yes, the moment when the podium was pulled away from Amanda along with the dress was really effective.  

NAN

That kind of costume trick is tough to pull off. Big hand to Keys for sure.

ESPIE

Much props (and by props, I mean huzzah for the costume design)! What did you think about the use of projections?

NAN

I wasn’t a huge fan. I appreciate that they were using the stylized screen cards, and the attention to detail was great, but not only did they have actors passing in front of the screen making it hard to read the text, but it ended up feeling weirdly like a Monologue Propelled Play where you have someone come out and just do a ton of thinly veiled exposition to demarcate every scene rather than showing it? I think they could have seriously cut back on the number of cards they used, if nothing else, and kept them up for longer.

ESPIE

As someone who reads very slowly and often misses subtitles, I felt immediate pressure to speed through the cards as soon as they came on screen.  Though I understand that the cards paired with the music were meant to emulate a silent movie, I would’ve much preferred to have the cards narrated (maybe by the Philly Theatre “It Girls” that were projected at the top of the show).  For me, the piece felt more like a warped documentary of the silent movie industry then a silent movie itself and I would’ve liked to see that leaned into.

NAN

Great point. When you lean that heavily on projected text you really need to make sure everyone in the audience can read it or access it in another way.

ESPIE

Also, going off my previous comment, I thought the slideshow of the current Philly theatre “It Girls” (Hannah Van Sciver, Stephanie N. Walters, and Campbell O’Hare among others) was a missed opportunity.  I got so excited when the opening began to get really specific about Philly theatre and was really craving a savage Philly-specific critique and was disappointed that aspect of the piece wasn’t taken further.

NAN

Agreed. They seemed to take a step in that direction but then it was a false start. I would have really loved to see the show they set us up for with that! It felt like they were just looking for a framing device for a Clara Bow biography, in that the two didn’t really come together in a way that made sense, but sort of coexisted separately.  Overall I thought the dance work and physical storytelling was really interesting and well done, but I wasn’t super interested in the actual story being told once it became clear that it was just telling her biography, and it was an unfortunately familiar “rise and fall of female celebrity” story.

ESPIE

Yeah, once Clara’s story got rolling there wasn’t really an opportunity for a breath of fresh air.  Everything just seemed to go downhill once she got her first part.

NAN

It was a bit frustrating for me because there was so much there emotionally, as an actor– it was really personally difficult to watch, but it didn’t use the emotional strife it created toward any real point that I could see. And especially watching as an actor and sort of constantly aware of all this coming from Schoonover and wondering how self-referential it was meant to be.

ESPIE

So well put!  

NAN

It’s rough when the main dramatic tension of a piece is the audience wondering if they are watching a sort of self-critical personal reflection on the part of the performer/deviser. And then even when they came back to the framing device at the end they didn’t really make much of everything we had just seen– they have this intense, lovely sort of stage combat/dance bit with heavy metal laid over it but I wasn’t sure what it meant? Maybe Clara/Amanda sort of reclaiming her own agency in a kind of way? But it didn’t really pan out for me.

ESPIE

I loved the use of the heavy metal as a way to propel us back out of the 1920s (it’s also generally a choice that I’m a big fan of), but I never got the sense of reclamation.  Maybe because one of the last things – or was it the last thing – that Amanda said was “sorry”.

NAN

It felt like a “sorry not sorry”. But she didn’t say that, of course.

ESPIE

Gotcha, I didn’t pick up on that at all

NAN

At the end of the day though if it was supposed to be a reclamation of agency and voice, wouldn’t she have said what she meant? I would have loved that. Like a real throw down pissed off speech at the end? I know you’re meant to show not tell (and obviously I am going against what I just said about the projections) but I would have loved something a little more explicit at the end!

ESPIE

I agree, though I think at this stage of the piece, that moment wouldn’t necessarily feel earned, we spend so much time in Clara’s bio that, at least for me, I didn’t get a clear enough image of Amanda to have her throwing down the gauntlet make sense.

NAN

Yeah, you’re right. Overall I think they did some really interesting and unusual things– an almost entirely nonspeaking show, that tries to talk about the nature of female celebrity/artists, that style of old fashioned physical storytelling merged with dance– and the movement was definitely very unique and really strong. But it didn’t really come together for me. Talk about an unintentionally (it seemed to me) but extremely alienating piece of theater.

ESPIE:

Yes! I loved all of the tools that Brenna Geffers employed to make this piece and the specificity and rules of the world, and I thought both Amanda and Anthony Crosby (who deserves a shout of for delivering a truly generous performance) both knocked it out of the park, but the story just wasn’t there.  Additionally, I wish they had a trigger warning on it, while I knew it was going to get dark, I wasn’t aware quite how violent Clara’s downfall was going to get.  I think it’s especially necessary in that setting (Second floor of Plays and Players) or any setting where alcohol is more prominent.  Folks who’ve been drinking can be more emotionally vulnerable.

NAN

Definitely agree that a trigger warning is called for. And regarding Anthony Crosby’s character– I’m still not sure if he was meant to represent something, and if so, what? But very generous work on the actor’s part for sure.

ESPIE

What did you think of the evening overall?

NAN

I thought it was a great example of what one can do without many resources, and how much room there is for new work, especially when artists team up like this. And I hope to see many more double feature style collaborations like that in the future! And you?

ESPIE

Agreed!

So Low Quick Takes- Cinematic Human and Post April

JG is a deviser and a performer

Post-April

Pockets: It was a hot hot Sunday. I’d made the trek from the west. There was wine as a pregame, and Sarah Knittel possesses a magic reserved for the likes of Lucille Ball.
The design was simple: a pool filled with water, balloons, fringe, and a body. A podium, and a tarp for projection. A stark background for a post-mortem TedTalk.
Post-April is that moment when a life, digital and otherwise, flashes before our eyes and then is gone. The body, the person, her sentiments, gyrations, perspective gone, leaving a body of work alive on the internet, the threads of comments filled with love/hate.
Perhaps April’s wish for her friends to thrive will make it to their ears. A journey which at first suits our narrator’s pacing and perspective, eventually tumbles out of her control which leaves one wondering what it was that brought about her demise. What brought April Atwater to the water? Was it always unavoidable?
Sarah Knittel as per usual brings it. The direction by Dani Solomon was solid with some beautiful surprises.The provocations raised by the creative trio James Haro, Dani Solomon, and Sarah Knittel are important. I’m excited to see what these folks get up to in the future.

Cinematic Human

I did the BratSolow doubleheader. I’d just seen Post-April and had gone for a quick bite. Coming back I was like alright bring on my strong leading ladies, ya dig?!

The design, again simplicity. Promenade seating woohoo! We can see each other, be seen, and may get cast. 3 musicians, 1 microphone for our muse and an infinity scarf, a handful of literature, A bottle of Vodka, and a sandwich board for illustrations. Billed as a part music performance, part liberation party, it doesn’t disappoint.

Jess Conda is all parts, Katerina, cinematic, miniscule, in your face, and confidant.
Mary Tuomanen’s direction through the promenade might make for linear movement, but I felt at times in the midst of a swirling tornado. Not laid to waste, but touched down on from time to time. I laughed I welled up, the music was rockin’.

Life, your life if you want it to be can be rewritten.-That’s me paraphrasing one of many messages from this piece. Personally this piece connects with my own history of surviving abuse, it talks about not drowning in silence, making a plan and getting away, and rewriting a life where I am significant. Yep this one’s got legs.

InterAct Apprentices One Act Festival

Editor’s Note: The Apprentices One Act Festival is a showcase of the work of young artists who spend a year apprenticed at InterAct. It is designed both to allow them to apply the skills that they have been learning during their time as apprentices, and introduce their work to the community. 

Jill is a director and devisor, and a cis white woman.

To empty my pockets: A whole bunch of my friends and collaborators were involved in this production as actors, directors and playwrights. I also love seeing young artists producing work, and I want to see them succeed.

I want to acknowledge first that the apprentices–Bianca Sanchez, Dylan Wallace, Benjamin Behrend, and Grayce Hoffman–managed to produce what seemed like a smooth, well-run evening, all while each of them also directed or acted in at least one of the pieces. Having self-produced a little and found it to be an overwhelming and sweaty experience, I admire their professionalism and efficiency.

The show was comprised of 5 plays, all by playwrights with Philadelphia ties. As in any festival of one-acts, some were stronger than others.

The highlight of the night was Lauren Feldman’s Silences, directed by Hannah Van Sciver and performed by Bianca Sanchez. The piece was broken up into three parts, three distinct “silences,” and it began and ended the show. Sanchez is a lovely performer to watch, and she navigated beautifully the challenges of engaging an audience with almost no text. Silence can be uncomfortable in the theatre for directors, actors, and audience members, but Van Sciver admirably leaned into that potential discomfort to great effect. Her direction was deliberate and generous

I had questions about the selection of two of the plays presented–Jeremy Gable’s Sudden Drop and Haygen Brice Walker’s Donald Trump, Buzzfeed, and Dead Black Kids. The first deals with the Internet leak of a celebrity’s private nude photos. The story–a woman’s privacy is violated, men are callous or willfully ignorant in response to her outrage–is unfortunately familiar, and Gable’s play does not really seem to have anything new to say on the subject. The man in the play, an indoor-sunglasses-wearing radio host played by Benjamin Behrend, is predictably unsympathetic, and watching him launch familiar mansplainy arguments at Grayce Hoffman’s character is neither absurd enough to be funny, nor painful enough to be cathartic. It’s just exhausting. Both performers, under David O’Connor’s direction, acquitted themselves well.

Walker’s play captures the conversation between two teenage girls, one of whom is black and one white, about all the things they hate. When that conversation pivots to race, lines are crossed and horrible, cruel things are said. I question the choice of this play because it’s really, really hard and contains language that can be extremely harmful. Campbell O’Hare’s character proclaims her racist worldview with the same matter-of-factness with which she describes deleting her Facebook account, and the effect is jarring. Dylan Wallace noted in his bio that this was one of his first times directing, and I wonder about why he chose (or why InterAct guided him to choose) something so potentially inflammatory and so tonally specific.

Katharine Clark Gray’s Run/Hide/Fight deals with the aftermath of a mass shooting, and offers a kind of closure for acts of violence and random death that seems unattainable in reality. The piece’s premise felt a little contrived, but the performances were solid, especially Jenna Kuerzi’s; her character’s relationship with Tessa Kuhn’s felt clear and connected. Benjamin Behrend’s direction kept things moving, preventing the play from sinking into sentimentality.

Finally, Grayce Hoffman directed Lauren Feldman’s How it Works, which, in a sort of magical-realistic way, seems to track the things a person must give up before a major surgery, though that is never made wholly explicit. The action of the play shows Kelly Filios’s character detailing and placing in a bin the things she is giving up to Jason Lindner’s doctor character. The play is challenging because it is essentially a long list, and I wish that Hoffman and the performers had found ways to give it a little more action or emotional development. Both characters seemed fixed throughout–Filios’s in bitter anger and resentment and Lindner’s projecting a world-weary kind of tough love. It would have been nice to see what else was underneath, or to see the two of them affect change on each other.

Though I wasn’t crazy about every piece they presented, I am impressed by the skill and professionalism of the 2016/2017 apprentices. I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to make work and cultivate their artistic voices.

Author’s Addendum: To clarify, I don’t believe that Donald Trump, Buzzfeed, and Dead Black Kids should not be produced or performed because it contains controversial or inflammatory material. I think it’s a funny and biting play that deals with everyday racism in a way that can make an audience deeply, productively uncomfortable, and I am happy to see it done. My questions were about the choice of that play for a first-time director, because I think the material requires an acute tonal sensitivity, something that often develops with more experience.