CU Players’ annual One Act Festival, which took place this past weekend, gave audiences a taste of new and veteran talent within Columbia and Barnard’s theater community. Performed in Barnard’s Glicker-Milstein Theater, the festival provided audiences with three very different short plays showcasing a variety of actors and exploring themes ranging from young love to the impact of everyday conversations.
The One Act Festival is entirely directed, produced, and acted by students from Columbia and Barnard. This year’s festival introduced two new directors, Alexandra Haddad, BC ’21, and Sandy Gooen, BC ’19.
“Heart’s Desire,” written by Caryl Churchill and directed by William Sydney, CC ’19, was the first play on the program. Strikingly experimental, the play investigated the role of time and consisted of a bickering family repeating a conversation over and over again, but with slight differences leading to different outcomes.
The play was a challenge for the director and actors, as they had to convey the passage of time and reset the scene over and over again while still maintaining the flow of the play. At the beginning, the continuous reset of props made scene changes languorous, but once the characters moved past this initial scene and beyond that particular physical challenge, the true promise of the play shone through.
With surprising elements like the appearance of a shooter gunning down the family and a green bird walking in unexplained, the play maintained its sense of the absurd while also capturing the dynamic of a family in conflict. The play’s greatest success was in its subtle treatment of interpersonal relationships; the ensemble had great chemistry, with particular success in the interactions between the three main characters played by Isaac Jiffar, CC ’18, visiting student Jaz Manville, and Abigail Smith, BC ’18.
“Boy Meets Girl,” a love story transplanted to a kindergarten classroom written by Sam Wolfson and directed by Alexandra Haddad, BC ’21, was the standout of the night. The play perfectly parodied the stereotypes of a college relationship, putting the classic small talk, first-date jitters, and eventual fights into the mouths of fifth graders. Jordan Mahr, CC ’20, and Carolyn Friedman, CC ’21, helped the comedy of the play shine with quick timing and adorable chemistry.
Lines like, “God, I want to nap with you” were a hit with the audience, who laughed and cheered appreciatively as the play progressed. The creative use of the Bon Jovi song “You Give Love a Bad Name,” in combination with a blackout and spotlight on the characters, brought the house down, as the audience both sympathized with the kids’ plight but also laughed at the inherent ridiculousness of relationships.
The final play presented was “Removing the Glove,” written by Columbia alumnus and current manager of academic administration of the writing program Clarence Coo, SoA ’10. Directed by Sandy Gooen, BC ’19, the play was an extended metaphor about queerness and coming out in a world in which left-handedness is seen as shameful. It follows Will, played by Eytan Penn, GS/JTS ’18, as he navigates “removing the glove” and exposing his left-handedness to his family and friends.
While the immense prejudice that members of the queer community face is often forgotten on such a liberal campus in a city like New York, “Removing the Glove” reminded viewers that coming out often has deeply harmful effects on young queer people, shifting the dynamics of their relationships with loved ones.
Most likely due to the short length of the play and a lack of depth in the script, the characters did not come across as fully developed, and the play did fall into some stereotypes about coming out, with a fairly predictable plot line centered around homophobia. The tension between the comedic surface and dark core of the play was also not fully addressed, leaving the audience slightly unsure about how to respond. The play was strong, however, in its many one-liners, many of which were delivered by Penn with a knowing air.
Overall, the One Act Festival was extremely promising, as it introduced new plays, ideas, and promising young actors and directors to the Columbia community. During the intermission following “Boy Meets Girl,” the audience was animated and buzzing with excitement over what they had just seen.
This excitement is deserved, and audiences should watch for these new talents in the years to come.
Updated: Wednesday Oct. 31 1:17 p.m. A previous version of the article stated that “Boy Meets Girl” was set in a fifth-grade classroom. The mistake has since been rectified. Spectator regrets the error.