At the Donn B. Murphy One Acts Festival, audiences will be reminded that old-fashioned theatre is anything but stale. This annual event run, by the Mask & Bauble Society, showcases fresh talent in the Georgetown community and gives actors, playwrights and directors the opportunity to hone their skills in front of a live audience. This weekend, these young artists, who have earned valuable experience through creating the production, will bring life to two pieces deeply rooted in the past.
The night begins with How to Succeed with Dolls, a new musical written and composed by Tim Lyons (COL ’15). Every spring, writers can submit their work to a panel of judges and the top three works are selected. The director of the festival then chooses which of the three he would like to workshop. Luckily for Lyons, his musical tied for first place with the judges and director Caleb Lewis (COL ’16) decided to pursue it for performance.
Knowingly grounded in cliche, Lyons’ musical – the first he’s ever written – follows a naive boy desperately in love, a pair of talking gamblers and a friendly bartender who helps see the action along. The piece takes inspiration from the simple, lighthearted musicals of the mid-20th century, particularly classics like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
“They’re so cliched, but at the same time, that’s really what makes them work. You know what’s coming, and you’re relieved and delighted when it does finally come,” Lyons said, while reflecting on his works of reference.
Lyons achieves this in How to Succeed With Dolls, frequently cluing the audience in on what to expect to the extent that even the characters get the message. Following one of the more emotional numbers, Johnny, one of the gamblers, mentions that he anticipated the sentimental ballad. With the accompaniment of only a piano, the songs sound sweet, and they are filled with the same platitudes as the dialogue.
“The show is partly a parody of them but partly homage,” said Lyons.
In the second act, audiences are transported further back in theatrical time with a collection entitled Famous Duos of William Shakespeare, which was selected by Lewis to follow How to Succeed With Dolls. The piece takes scenes that feature only two actors from both the Bard’s tragedies and his comedies, and the selections provide an intriguing mix of character relationships and themes.
To start the audience off with something familiar, the collection opens with the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. Because the play is one that audiences will be familiar with, it allows them to easily adjust to Shakespeare’s language. From there, actors perform powerful scenes from less popular plays like The Tempest, Richard III and Othello.
Lewis, a huge fan of Shakespeare, wanted to not only remind theatergoers of Shakespeare’s best-known work but also expose them to some other equally complex and entertaining plays they may never have seen.
“I wanted to show scenes that people heard about or thought they knew, but I also wanted to show scenes from Shakespeare plays that are lesser known. A lot of people don’t really like Shakespeare. Something I wanted to do was try and make Shakespeare likeable,” Lewis said.
Although he has experience as an actor, Lewis had a huge undertaking as a first-time director in overseeing both pieces. For him, the time and effort spent reaped many rewards.
“It was very challenging at times because as a director, you have to all the answers,” Lewis said. “But I learned so much not only about directing, but about acting, about design, about everything by doing this.”
The festival is extremely rewarding for the actors as well. Will Redmond (COL ’15) became very involved with the production, taking on the roles of Ronnie the bartender in How to Succeed with Dolls and both Richard III and Prospero in Famous Duos of William Shakespeare. Of all of his duties, he admits playing Richard III in his scene with the character Anne is the most challenging.
“But that also makes him the most fun,” Redmond said. “He’s willing to do just about anything for power. What makes Richard difficult is balancing the truthfulness of what he’s saying to Anne with the wheels of his plan going on in the back of his head.”
While he finds the complexity of Richard’s character enjoyable, he also delights in being a part of How to Succeed With Dolls.
“It’s a lot of fun doing something that harks back to the heyday of musical theater when it was really rising,” Redmond said. “Tim has just done a fabulous job putting this show together. The show is very much pure fun, but it’s very cleverly written as well.”
Although modern theater has a lot to offer, this year’s One-Act Festival seeks to remind theatergoers of the treasures found in the past. At the same time, the theatrical artists of the present and the future have been given the chance to shine. While applause from satisfied audiences will certainly be gratifying, those who took part in the festival have also been able to find tremendous satisfaction in the entire process of putting the festival together.
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