A Night at the One Acts

Ballance and Gray in MUD.

By Erin Bassler

Worcester State University, in association with the Visual and Performing Arts Department, provides a unique night at the theatre — three one act plays filled with dark humor and philosophy.

All the plays are are performed and directed by WSU students. The Zoo Story is directed by Jon Bethel, The Dumb Waiter by Nathan Wheeler, and MUD by Eddie Sanchez.

Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story depicts every peace-lover’s worst nightmare —  a stranger coming up to you in the park and interrupting your reading.

Jerry (Eddie Sanchez), the interrupter, is an unusual and likely unhinged individual without much in his life except for two empty picture frames, someone else’s dog, and a cryptic story about the zoo. Peter (Erick Lindenberger), the interruptee, is a rather average fellow with a wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets, who only wanted a peaceful afternoon in the park.

Eddie Sanchez exemplifies the complex personality of Jerry, grabbing and keeping the audience’s attention as he moves about the stage, weaving story after story for Peter to listen to. Sanchez’s impressive range of erratic behaviors sets everyone on edge, but his depth of emotion displays a vulnerability that keeps viewers fascinated, despite their better instincts.

Erick Lindenberger’s Peter is a wonderfully human balance to Sanchez’s Jerry. As much the listener as those in the audience, Linderberger skillfully acts as a personification of the audience, reacting the way an average person might to such a strange encounter. He uses the qualities of a normal guy to bring a surprising amount of  humor into the production, making the conclusion all the more meaningful.

The Dumb Waiter, by Harold Pinter, gives the audience a peek at what every spy movie about assassination and subterfuge leaves out — what’s going on with the faceless hired help with guns pointed at the Bond-character?

Cuccoli and Brown in The Dumb Waiter.

Ben (Kristen Cuccoli) and Gus (Shyiesha Brown) are two hitmen during the closest thing they have to “just another day at the office.” Stuck in a basement apartment with no gas for the stove, no word from their boss, and a dumbwaiter that keeps sending down food orders, the two men must pass the time before their target walks in the door.

Kristen Cuccoli’s ‘bad cop’ and Shyiesha Brown’s ‘good cop’ play well together, keeping the audience amused and entertained during a pretty heavy situation. Brown’s Gus’ humorous complaining about their poor living accommodations and the questionable morality of their work pairs well with Cuccoli’s Ben’s considerable irritability and uneasy contentedness with their situation – these men are two sides of the same coin.

MUD, by Maria Irene Fornes, depicts the miserable lives of one woman, one man, and one bum under one leaky roof.

Mae (Daryn Ballance), and Lloyd (Austin Gannon) live together in a foul semblance of harmony, until Mae invites the much older Henry (Matt Gray), whom she loves, to live with them. What appears to be change for the better quickly turns for the worse as the life of one woman is subsequently drained by the two men who supposedly love her most.

Daryn Ballance garners a great deal of the audience’s sympathy with her portrayal of Mae, an unfortunate girl whose eagerness to learn and grow and experience is stymied by the leech-like nature of those around her. From start to finish, Ballance’s tragic performance of one woman’s sad existence leaves playgoers truly invested and eager for the smallest scrap of hope, which they and Mae are unjustly denied.

Ballance and Gray in MUD.
Ballance and Gray in MUD.

Austin Gannon and Matt Gray – Lloyd and Henry, respectively – easily play some of the worst examples of human behavior. Gray’s theater experience shines through in his transformation from gentle tutor and attentive lover to a needy and unsympathetic presence in the household. Gannon brings unexpected pity to the normally crude and despicable character of Lloyd, revealing him as a man with nothing in his life but one woman who he can only abuse.

Costumes designed by Jasper Bliss bring out the distinct personality of each character. It becomes easy for an audience member to discern age, lifestyle, occupation, and even socioeconomic status, with just one glance.

The single set, designed by John Howell Hood, creatively incorporates all three productions onto one stage. The Zoo Story takes place on a peaceful park bench, The Dumb Waiter in a sleazy basement apartment, and MUD in a run-down house for three.

Since there are little to no scenery changes, lighting is used to create a distinct world for each performance. In the midst of the story, all additional scenery melts away to fully immerse the playgoer into the world of the stage.

We remain captivated by Jerry’s lonely ranting, made anxious by Ben’s uneasy trigger finger, and devastated by the circumstances that life has cruelly dealt Mae.

Outside of the dramatic performances by the shows’ actors, the One Acts have been a great way for the student directors — Sanchez, Bethel, and Wheeler — to prove themselves as professionals. If the cheers of the audience on opening night suggest anything, they have succeeded.

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