“Have you ever tried not being an actor?” Alex (Alex B. Zaloum ’16) asks earnestly in the opening scene of “Players,” a student-written play performed at the Adams Pool Theater from Nov. 14 to 16.
“We all have tried,” Ellen (Alice Abracen ’15, also the playwright) says. Their back-and-forth exchange quickly is quickly cut short, however, as the play plunges into action. Gunshots pop overhead, the theater’s lights black out, and the flimsy set topples down. News reports chronicle a suicide bombing as the house lights fade, leaving a ruined stage bereft of its players. When the noise dies down, Alex is left to pick up the pieces of his broken set, his directorial dreams for the production and his flirty, witty banter with Ellen put on hold indefinitely.
Years into a nameless war, Alex, in an attempt to restore normalcy, gathers his players to put on a production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Just as the comedy Alex chose seems out of place, “Players” pokes fun at the life of the actor, a life that seems dramatically more foolish—perhaps even more self-servingly ridiculous—in the context of war. Abracen’s script captured those comedic moments successfully with heart, while the play’s darker notes seemed confused, if not unnatural.
Although subtle costume choices by Nick T.J. Wood ’17 remind the viewer that the war does rage outside the theater, the script does not explicitly clarify the reasons for the fighting. “Players” makes it clear that this company is divided, as some members wear black armbands and other members wear white armbands ones. But these stark divisions are brushed over too abruptly. The theater serves as a platform for the players to interact with one another, even if this communication occurs only because of Alex’s directorial force, but a deeper connection is missing.
The script bombards the audience with the importance of acting to these actors, especially to Alex. “You can try if you want, but you’ll always be an actor,” he says calmly, trying to bring Ellen, changed by the war, back into the fold. Playing aloof and flashing her piercing blue eyes, Abracen pulls off Ellen’s strong reluctance to return to the stage both with casual disinterest and fierce resistance. Ellen has joined the nameless faction perpetuating the war, and, as Abracen portrays successfully, now she seems to have no feelings either. “You think the company will want people like me,” she blurts out, snarkily attempting to emphasize how changed she is.
But Ellen’s moments of isolation, curled in a ball on the tiled ledge of the Adams Pool, do not match with the tone of “Players,” still peppered with puns and slapstick jabs at the theatrical life. Ellen’s melancholia, though portrayed beautifully by Abracen, does not advance the larger, communal purpose Alex and the rest of the cast seem to be supporting.
The success of “Players”, then, lies most strongly in the script’s comedic scenes, which are relatable because of their simultaneous humility and humanity. Abracen’s choice for her characters to use their actors’ names also emphasizes the familial closeness that develops among company members. In one warm-up game, for example, the players form a trust circle, first pushing and catching Juan’s (Juan E. Bedoya ’16) body as it falls into their unfailing arms. Juan’s face, visibly uncomfortable, puckers, and the audience laughs heartily as the players move him around like a sack of potatoes, not outwardly worried about letting him fall. “Oh, that was good until we dropped Juan,” Alex, ever the director, says matter-of-factly to conclude the day’s exercise.
These colloquial, easy lines also work well when Caro (Carolina P. Ribeiro ’18) and Josh (Josh Garcia) rehearse a scene as Hippolyta and Theseus in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The two are intentionally performing terribly because they harbor resentment toward one another, divided by the war. But that backstory is not important here. Instead, it is the theater that persists, voiced by Alex’s concern for his production above all else. “You guys are getting married in four days, and, frankly, I’m not feeling the love,” Alex says.
It is in the tender moments that begin to develop among company members that the war starts to matter less. “Players,” in this way, raises questions about the relevance of war going on outside, but those questions themselves do not seem relevant. Why should people care about it? Does war even matter when life persists inside the theater?
No. 5 Cornell To Provide Early Test on RoadFacing two ECAC opponents this weekend, the Crimson men’s hockey team will attempt to replicate last week’s win over Dartmouth. Harvard (1-0, 1-0 ECAC) will face Colgate (2-2-3) tonight and archrival No. 5 Cornell (1-0) on Saturday. The two New York road contests will be the first games away from the Bright Hockey Center this season. Last year, the Crimson went 0-11-5 away from home. With this in mind, the players acknowledge the added challenge of attaining victories this weekend.
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