One Acts bring absurdist comedy to the Huss stage

February 1, 2023

“Funny, absurd, and thoughtful” was how junior Bri Rucker, an actor in Dogg’s Hamlet, described this year’s One Acts, a description that perfectly matches the comedic brilliance, colorful chaos, and thoughtful genius that took place on the Huss stage.

The evening of performances started off with Dogg’s Hamlet, an absurdist play directed by US Theater Director Eric Severson that follows a group of students preparing to perform a 15-minute version of Hamlet. The audience responded with a mixture of amused laughter and slight confusion as the students rehearsed their lines and constructed the set, for while the actors were still speaking in English, it was a version of English in which everyday words have completely different meanings than those typically assigned to them. In the world of Dogg’s Hamlet, “useless” means goodbye, “cube” means thank you, and characters have names like “Fox Major.”

The cast did a phenomenal job of using nonverbal actions to make the scenes clear, however, some confusion and silliness persisted. But this confusion was intentional, as the use of backward English was meant to serve a deeper purpose.

Students and teachers alike often complain about the complexity of Shakespearean English; it’s wordy and hard to understand. However, after listening to the silly and backward way of speaking English for nearly 15 minutes, the actors’ abbreviated performance of Hamlet created a sense of comfort and familiarity for the audience, as Shakespearean English, while at times confusing, is closer to the English spoken today.

Overall, Dogg’s Hamlet was both complex and entertaining, and strong acting performances from the entire cast made this show a joy to watch.

Next up was The Bald Soprano, an absurdist anti-play directed by senior Maggie Fried. The play follows a dinner party hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Cosette Switzer and Maddie Pierce), a traditional British couple, that rapidly devolves into nonsensical chaos as the couple and their guests (Madeline Kim and Rachel Swenson) engage in fiery yet confusing conversations, are visited by the town fire chief (Rowan Moore), and witness a hilarious outburst from their maid, Mary (Cassandra Zirps).

The minimalist set and lighting allowed for the costumes and characters to shine, and the play’s perfect mix of comedy, absurdity, and social commentary left audiences thoroughly entertained.

Wasp, an absurdist play directed by senior Quenby Wilson, closed out the night. Written by Steve Martin, the complex and comedic play comments on the stereotypical American nuclear family and its White Anglo-Saxon Protestant values. The play shows its four central characters, Dad (Colin Will), Mom (Elzie Bieganek), Son (Murray Goff), and Sis (Frances Matthews), engaging in conversations and behavior typical of a 1950s American family. However, brief scenes where the characters are alone or away from their family offer glimpses into the characters’ desires beyond the futures that have been laid out for them.

The play made brilliant use of space, levels, and stage pictures, and its biting one-liners left the audience howling with laughter.

Dogg’s Hamlet competed in sub-sections for the MSHSL One Act Play Competition on Jan. 28, earning third place, and ending their performance run.


Maddy Fisher

ROYAL COUNSEL. Savannah Switzer and Aarushi Bahadur play King Claudius and Polonius, the two sharing a moment of concern over the future of the kingdom due to the actions of prince Hamlet.

“I definitely was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.”

Winter One Acts open up the acting and directing experience with fast-paced production and inventive shows

Senior Maggie Fried never thought she would direct one of the annual upper school One Acts.

“I’ve been super into acting since middle school and throughout all of high school, so directing as something I could do just wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “Even as I acted in senior-directed acts as an underclassman, I never thought that [director] could be me.”

Then, in the fall of senior year, she took an advanced theater class that focused on directing.

“I definitely was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. It came a lot more naturally to me than I thought it would,” she said.

Directing a one-act play seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.”

— Maggie Fried

Fried found that she “…loved the process of blocking something in my head and then seeing what the actors could bring to it, and creating something really cool and meaningful together. After that, directing a one-act play just seemed like an opportunity too incredible to pass up.”

The One Acts have traditionally included student-directed pieces, a practice that began in the fall of 2003.

This year’s playbill on Jan. 27 contained three productions, two of them student-directed and each running for approximately 30 minutes.

Fried directed a shortened version of the French absurdist classic by Eugene Enesco, “The Bald Soprano,” which focuses on the interactions between two families.

“I was really drawn to it because it’s an anti-play; there’s no cohesive plot. The characters are very stereotypical,” she said. “That kind of drove my vision and how I approached the play.”

Fried was initially nervous about shouldering the responsibility that comes with directing.

“I was worried about a lot of things. Directing one scene with two people in class is very different from directing an entire play,” she said.

The limited rehearsal time also created some stress. Auditions took place before Winter Break, but rehearsals didn’t start until after; the entire production process took place over three weeks.

In spite of these worries, Fried found that aspects of the job were much easier than she initially expected.

Before the show, Fried said, “Everyone in the cast is super focused and committed. They’re doing a really great job learning all the blocking, reviewing lines outside of school, and coming in ready to go, which is making it really fun and easy for me.”

The other student-directed show performed was “WASP,” a satirical take on 1950s suburbia written by Steve Martin, and directed by senior Quenby Wilson. The act centers around a family whose behavior is strictly dictated by societal norms. However, when the members of the household are left to their own devices, they find ways to express themselves, rebelling against the roles that dictate their family life.

The competition one act chosen this year and that debuted at the One Acts is “Dogg’s Hamlet” by Tom Stoppard and is directed by US Theater Director Eric Severson.

The first half of the production is performed entirely in a language called Dogg, which uses ordinary English words but assigns them different definitions. The second half is a drastically shortened version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The play seeks to demystify Shakespearean language by forcing the audience to become accustomed to a gibberish language.

Senior Valerie Wick has been part of the One Acts since her freshman year. This year is her first time being in the competition act—she plays Baker in the first half and Hamlet in the second half of the production. Wick found this play to be particularly challenging due to the unusual language.

“None of it really makes sense on its own,” she said. “It was really difficult to memorize the lines because there was nothing to attach them to. You’re saying ‘cauliflower’ over and over and you have no clue what it means.”

“Dogg’s Hamlet” is SPA’s entry into the MSHSL One Act Play Competition. The top two teams from each subsection advance to the section competition. SPA will host both competitions. The former took place Jan. 28 and the latter will occur Feb. 9.

Severson appreciates the community and perspective that the competition brings.

“For me, one of the greatest things that it does is it allows our students as well as other students to see what other schools are doing,” he said. “We try really hard to build it as a supportive space where the students are encouraging and supporting each other, as opposed to trying to make it competitive.”

Both Severson and Wick mentioned the unique energy present in the One Acts.

“I think people who do the One Acts do it because they really enjoy theater and enjoy the process of making theater,” Wick said.

“There’s always this level of joy in the One Acts,” Severson added. “Not because the musical and the play don’t have that, but because the One Acts have student-directed pieces and people trying theater for the first time. To me, that is the exciting piece because you get different audience members showing up and the different students participating.”

Severson also appreciated the dedication of this year’s seniors.

“The thoughtfulness and the leadership that I have seen in this group of seniors is one that has won my heart,” he said. “They have taken it upon themselves to be supportive of everyone, they want to be inclusive, and they want to support students that are in the younger grades.”

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