One-acts return with family drama and personal transformation

Taneeka Hansen

Zoe Randol and Russell Sperberg during a rehearsal of Mabel, a one-act written by Michaela Gianotti and directed by Sarah Wright. The show is part of the One-Act Play Contest, at Harper Joy from Feb 16-20. Credit: Ben Lerchin

On Wednesday, Feb. 16, Harper Joy Theater will open the 22nd Annual One-Act Play Contest, traditionally one of the more popular shows of the season. Completely student-run, the one-acts draw on the collaboration of student writers, directors, actors and production staff to make the event a success.

Credit: Ben Lerchin

Juniors David Otten and Michaela Gianotti, two of the event’s selected playwrights, wrote their scripts while studying abroad last semester. Both found their own ways to work this Whitman tradition into the rhythm of their lives abroad.

“I worked on [my one-act] for about an hour on the weekends then I took [time] off, and I wrote it on trains,” said Otten.

Gianotti even found some of her inspiration abroad.

“The actual fight that the couple [in the play] is having is something that I overheard,” said Gianotti. “It was actually an American couple in France and they didn’t think anyone around them could understand because they were speaking English … They just [assumed] that everyone [spoke] French, and I was just sitting there and, of course, I speak English quite well and could understand their whole fight.”

Gianotti’s play, “Burying Mabel”, centers on a young couple engaged in an important argument in the midst of hectic family funeral. It raises questions about priorities and the couple’s place within the family dynamic.

“Michaela really focuses when she’s writing plays on big families and different essential parts of the family, and how a dysfunctional family is very functional still, or a functional family might be very dysfunctional,” said senior Kevin Klein, who plays Bob in “Burying Mabel”.

Midnight Chimes Rehersal featuring Mari Cannon as the mother and Charlie O'Rourke as the father. Credit: Brandon Fennell

“Midnight Chimes,” written by Otten, tells the story of a family just returned from visiting their son in the penitentiary. The son’s execution is scheduled for midnight. Like Gianotti’s play, “Midnight Chimes” pays attention to family dynamics in difficult situations.

“[The play is about] how you can love someone and then discover something about them that is horrifying, and trying to mesh these two distinct ideas about a person together,” said sophomore Ryan Campeau, the play’s director.

The final play,”Crowgirl”, was written by senior Olivia Johnson. This folk-tale inspired script is a story of transformation and discovery about a girl made from crow feathers.

“It deals a lot with growing up,” said senior Keith Hock, the one-act’s director. “It’s a loss of innocence, and not necessarily that loss of innocence being negative, but that loss of innocence being a change.”

This is Hock’s third year on the production team of a one-act, although it is his first in the role of director. Sarah Wright, who is directing “Burying Mabel”, also directed for Gianotti in last year’s contest. Last year, Campeau acted in last year’s production.

The fact that these directors have all returned suggests that the process of the one-act contest is a strongly positive experience.

Klein, who has acted in the one-acts all of his four years at Whitman, points to the collaborative energy of an all-student production team.

“Everyone takes it very, very seriously, and treats it very professionally; but at the same time, it is often your friends [working with you] … so it ends up being a much more comfortable acting experience most of the time and more comfortable collaborative process,” said Klein. “It’s a great opportunity to do things, take risks and really invest yourself in a creative process.”

Hock agreed on the show’s opportunities for students.

The Crow Girl rehersal featuring: Yoni Evans and Beth Daviess. Credit: Brandon Fennell

“This is going to be the last show I do here, and I feel like this is a great way to end my career at Harper Joy, especially since I didn’t think [directing] was something I would ever be doing in this theater,” said Hock.

The 22nd Annual One-Act Play Contest opens on Harper Joy’s Freimann Stage on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m and will run through Sunday, Feb. 20. The show is currently sold-out, but tickets may be be obtained via wait-list the evening of the performance. Tickets are free for Whitman students with an ID.