[MINI REVIEWS] Huss stage fills with drama and delight

February 2, 2022

Yellow wallpaper comes to life. Two of literature’s most celebrated heroines meet in a waiting room. A council conducting a meeting in Hell. A set intentionally falls apart.

All this and more could all be see at the One Acts this past Friday in the Huss Center. The annual winter showcase began nearly 20 years ago. Each year, seniors apply to direct a one-act, a process that entails selecting a script, auditioning and casting their own plays, designing sets and costumes, and rehearsing and blocking the entire show.

The 2022 playbill included “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Cindy & Julie,” “A Cold Day in Hell,” and “The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong.”

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Lulu Priede

VOICES IN HER HEAD. Junior Mimi Huelster, right, represents senior Annika Brelsford’s inner conflict.

Huss Center Production Coordinator, Eric Severson, alongside assistant director Akie Kutsanai, brought Jennifer Blackmer’s adaptation of Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s short story to life from the onset. The first thing audience members saw were seven large panels spanning across the stage of what initially appeared to be simple wallpaper, with variations of the top of a bird cage adorning the top of each rectangular frame as well as a simple old-fashioned bed. As the main character Jane (senior Annika Brelsford) entered the stage, an actor appeared behind each of the frames, which became transparent with a change in lighting. These performers included a nun named (junior Parisa Ghavami), Queen Elizabeth (junior Maggie Fields), Gloria (senior Sevy Hayes), a survivor of sexual assualt, and 21st century women Seniz (junior Alison Mitchell), Betty (junior Rachel Swenson), Ellen (ninth grader Madeline Kim) and Gloria (senior Sevy Hayes).

John (senior Davyd Barchuk) and Jane perfectly captured the power imbalance and brokenness of the two characters’ marriage. John, a physician, restricts Jane to bed rest due to her postpartum depression and insists she not write. Helen (junior Mimi Huelster) represented Jane’s inner conflict over whether or not she should disobey her husband and write. Helene constantly tells Jane that writing is the only way to get better, but Jane resists. A turning point occurs when Helene dramatically cuts off Jane’s corset, setting her free from the confines of society and marriage. Following this event, Jane begins to listen to the voices and movements coming from the women behind the wallpaper and starts writing again.

Severson beautifully expressed the themes of the importance of self-expression, the flaws of the “resting cure”, and the subordination of women in marriages evident in Gilman’s original work. Severson’s use of mesh in each of the panels was the perfect way to make the audience understand what was going on in Jane’s mind. From thinking one could see movements in the wallpaper to thinking one is hearing voices in their head, the audience was fully transported into the mind of Jane.

“Cindy & Julie”

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Lulu Priede

PATIENCE IN THE WAITING ROOM. Cindy, left, and Julie share a meaningful conversation while each awaits their therapist.

A row of chairs, stacks of last month’s magazines, a receptionist’s desk and a basic lamp gave the audience a clear impression of the setting. The directors’, seniors Gray Whitaker-Castaneda and Vivian Johnson, simple staging of “Cindy & Julie” immediately brought the audience into the sterile and typical environment of a waiting room. Cinderella, who now goes by Cindy, was brought to the 21st century by senior Ellie Dawson-Moore. Not in her signature light blue ball gown, Cindy waits to see her therapist in a bright blue velour tracksuit and knee-high white boots. While Cindy impatiently flips through all the reading material available to her, Juliet Montague (ninth grader Maddie Pierce)–now Julie–walks in. Julie’s arrival surprises both Cindy and the audience, as she is thought to be dead. Julie strikes up a conversation with the celebrity that is Cindy, and explains how she and Romeo secretly faked their death. The two discuss the shortcomings in their relationships, especially the disappointment they feel in finding out their partners were not who they believed them to be.

Whitaker-Castaneda and Johnson’s close-up look at what happens after happily ever after provoked thought and reflection from the audience regarding the stories that are constantly told, especially to kids. By giving Cindy the chance to explain to a young woman (ninth grader Cerena Karmaliani) that love and relationships often involve disappointment, Whitaker-Castaneda and Johnson clearly deliver their message to the audience.

“A Cold Day in Hell”

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Lulu Priede

A MEETING IN PROGRESS. This council of hellraisers sits enthralled in a conversation about disobeying the status quo.

Directed by seniors Per Johnson and Olivia Szaj, “A Cold Day In Hell” begins–unsurprisingly–in hell. However, the simple staging only included a conference table with a few chairs around it. Seated around the table are “hellraisers”, those in the afterlife tasked with creating hell on earth. These employees of the Devil (senior Ellie Murphy) include Pureseaus (sophomore Sam Gilats), Jane Exelly III (sophomore Violet Benson), Tony Granding (sophomore Oliver Zhu), the world’s first lawyer (senior Naci Konar-Steenberg), Calvin (senior Sal Burkhardt), Maggie Anne (senior Olivia Fenlon), and Death (Zhu). The staffers are dismayed when they find out that newcomer and telemarketer Steve (junior Leo Sampsell-Jones) has been appointed as the chancellor of the committee over one of their own.

When assigned his first task of making his brother’s life miserable, Steve takes a stand against the Devil and the cruel work he is expected to do. Those around him are quite corrupt, ranging from disgraced politicians to a murderous 1950s housewife, so Steve’s attempted kindness is poorly recieved. Though the world’s first lawyer chooses to support Steve. The duo attempts to carry out kind acts for the people still on earth, and regain a chance at life after winning in a challenge against the outraged Devil.

In Johnson and Szaj’s directorial debut, they clearly and hilariously conveyed a poignant message to the audience. Not only did the audience enjoy laughs throughout the show, but audience members were left with the message that even if those around oneself have bad tendencies, one can still choose to do good.

“The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong”

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John Severson

THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Cast members hilariously deal with a (scripted) mishap.

Co-directed by seniors Nan Besse and Sam Zelazo, “The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong” had audiences laughing from the very first scene. This one-act version of the original follows the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they attempt to stage a production of a 1920s murder mystery. As the title suggests, the cast faces much adversity as everything that can go wrong does. Cast members misplace props, forget lines, miss cues and break character, all an intentional part of the one-act.
Besse and Zelazo had the audience laughing non stop. Though the message of Besse and Zelazo’s one-act feels much lighter than others that evening, it still holds much importance for the audience. As actors took their final bows, the message that humor is essential and even if everything goes wrong, there is still much to be valued were held strongly in the hearts of audience members.

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