"Close Encounters" an embarrassment of riches

June 2, 2014, 4:40 p.m. | By Dylan Ahunhodjaev | 9 years, 11 months ago

Friday's One Acts supremely entertaining

When reviewing the performance of Blair students in any activity or medium—be it sports, writing, theater, etc.—there's a good deal of pressure to use language that "talks up" Blazers. You use incredibly enthusiastic adjectives like "stellar" and "wonderful" and "heart-stopping," you go onto thesaurus websites to find even more when your personal lexicon of big-smile adjectives fails you. These are people you pass in the hallways and have classes with; the last thing you want to do is make them look bad, or even less than good.

(Left to right) Molly Beckett, Callie Gompf-Phillips and Ravyn Malatesta at lunch break on a high-rise girder Photo courtesy of Connor Smith.

So, with apologies to everyone whose illusions about Silver Chips Online reviews have just now been shattered, know that it's a general rule that the most glowing, excessively positive reviews of Blair activities should probably be taken with the tiniest grain of salt. The reason I tell you this is because I am about to launch into a review that should not be taken with a grain of salt of any size. Forget positive school criticism as a rule as I tell you that the Blair students' performance at the "Close Encounters" One Act play revue Friday was, with all available sincerity, truly stellar and wonderful and funny—very, very funny.

The first play, "Naomi in the Living Room," begins the evening on a note of suburban hysteria. And not a subtle, lurking-behind-pleasantries hysteria—Natalie Behrends as the title character shrieks, cackles, writhes on the couch—does to the scene what Busta Rhymes has been known to do to a hot beat. Her psychosis, as it loudly unfolds, is to the following plays what a clamorous drum solo might be to the beginning of a rock song: attention seizing, a loud display of ability that announces more to come. Anabel Milton as her daughter-in-law is prodded to similar hysterics, Simon Kienitz-Kincade has a hilarious gender-dysphoria moment of his own. The set design for this play is about as intricate as it gets for the evening—a couch, a chair and a table with a stuffed penguin on it. Surreal human interactions are the focus, and they are left to shine brilliantly or simmer uncomfortably in the minimal environments onstage.

You've seen the characters in these plays before: New Jersey construction workers (Molly Beckett, Callie Gompf-Phillips and Ravyn Malatesta, who dissolve perfectly into their roles, so many beautiful "foists" and "lahwns" and "weeyahds"), medieval peasants, a trucker, a soldier, parents…talking monkeys. But nothing in the world of these plays is quite right, the not-quite-rightness so gleefully and perfectly executed it dares you not to smile. Directors Laura Kennedy-Long and Aaron Posner clearly know how to wring some visible joy from their performers, who all seem to be having a good time—even the monkeys forced to try and recreate "Hamlet," the parents of a child who has urinated on an expensive cake.

Sophomore James Sleigh slinging some cake at senior Alex Michell in Friday's last performance Photo courtesy of Connor Smith.

The one-acts have some subversive, downright blasphemous moments and currents running through them. In "A Number on the Roman Calendar," two serfs (Ronnita Freeman and Sarika Ramaswamy) in the year 999 are waiting for the second coming of Jesus. The juxtaposition of this play, directly following the one about the three Jersey boys who think they are dead heirs and directly before the one entitled "Six Dead Bodies Duct-Taped to a Merry-Go-Round" should give some sense as to the comedic tension building in Blair Auditorium as the characters' faith prepares for some imminent body blows. The thing is, they never come. Sure, the pope (Ben Lickerman) shows up and says a bad word or two. Sure, the two peasants seem pretty dumb, exclaiming "we're rich like Jews!" when the pope floats them a box of gold. But the play doesn't mock them for having faith—it mocks the pope's wealth, and the inherent contradiction of having a wealthy pontiff. The same goes for much of the irreverence on display in the other performances—there is a sweetness behind the salt and sardony, a smart sort of dopeyness to every situation.

Friday's One Acts were superb. There was not one that didn't have me, and everyone else in the room, cackling like a psychotic. It was a disarmingly funny and charming sucker-punch of a show, and a supremely well-done by everyone involved.

Tags: Aaron Posner Laura Kennedy-Long One Acts

Dylan Ahunhodjaev. Hi everyone--my name is Dylan Ahunhodjaev. The first name is Welsh (but I'm not Welsh) and the last name is Uzbek (I'm Uzbek, from Uzbekistan, or at least my dad is). My parents met in the Peace Corps. It's a cute story, remind me to … More »

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