The New Plays Festival continued this weekend with a minimally staged performance of sophomore Rebecca Gonshak’s “Portrait of a Ukulelist” and a staged reading of “Sips and Drags” by post-baccalaureate fellow Isaac Miller ‘12.
Inspired by personal experience, “Portrait” delved into the insecurities of a young, unproven writer, why artists make art and where art and identity overlap.
The tale centers on Tori (freshman Carly Berinstein), a college sophomore caught in the throes her own essential weirdness, artistic impulses and open relationship with Nick (freshman Ned Babbit). Thrown into this mix are Tori’s simultaneously envious and admiring feelings towards the enigmatic and delightful Amanda Paramour (freshman Elizabeth Tweedy), a writer-ukulelist-performer and past “stand partner” of Nick’s.
Beginning and ending with a stage-within-a-stage (two college open mic shows), the play elicited laughter and enthused applause from real and fictional audiences alike.
It masterfully concluded with an unexpected and climactic kiss, the lights going down with just enough explained to leave the audience satiated yet thirsting for more.
“Portrait”’s caustically humorous and earnestly insightful script, which included original songs and poetry, benefited from a troop of well-cast actors whose body language and expressions brought a new layer to the story’s quirky yet familiar and resonating premise.
We’re all human, it seemed to say, not shying away from the warts of this fact, with an added attention to the details of the fabric of college life.
After a brief intermission, “Sips and Drags” commenced with a strong start that kept the momentum going.
Also drawn from real-life experience, “Sips” focused on a rooftop gathering of old childhood pals, caught wayward in a flux between their adolescent past and post-college present.
Drinking and smoking, they relive their antics, discuss their sexual escapades and their pipe dreams — “juvenile s—,” as Miller characterized it.
The rooftop represents a kind of sanctification of stasis, until their old buddy Sam (sophomore Mike Sprinkle) shows up with his new girlfriend, an “older woman” who used to babysit James (freshman Jacob Clay) and buttons are triggered as tension runs thick.
A major strength of the play was its sharp, witty dialogue — encapsulating camaraderie laced with bitterness — which flowed naturally amongst the actors.
Furthermore, the cast’s portrayal of the characters made them just relatable and recognizable enough to like them, without clouding their glaring moral and maturity deficiencies that were written into the script.
Though the play’s climax came off as a bit abrupt, the show overall held strong, raising questions about who people keep around in their lives and why.
Joint effort from each play’s playwright, who exorcised the deeply personal to bring these stories into being, and their casts and crews, who brought them fully into life, made for two nights of very human theater.
Both achieved a level of heartfelt realism through their highly believable characters, owed to a balanced combination of blunt, honest scripts and fitting, intuitive casts.
In content, theme and presentation, both seamlessly fit the format of the festival.