On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-28, a group of newly inducted freshmen took part in a time-honored Wiess College tradition, braving the stage and subjecting themselves to the mercy of an audience in Wiess Tabletop's Freshman One-Acts.
This year's freshmen created a series marked by ups and downs, but the funny scenes far outnumbered the less successful ones. One-Acts began a little awkwardly, and the ending was not particularly engaging, but it was interspersed with brilliant chunks of directing and acting.
The first one-act, "Check Please" (directed by Wiess senior Ife Owoyemi, Wiess junior Ingrid Mong and Wiess senior Ian Bott), started out quietly in its sketches of awkward dating and meet-cute situations but slowly gained momentum. The minimalist setup of two separate tables at a coffee shop, each showcasing a dating fiasco, was effective. Wiess freshmen Rui Zhang and Ariana Morgan each delivered standout performances; Zhang portrayed various insane people, and Morgan performed as a girl still not over her ex, a psycho who needs her meds and an always-on-the-phone diva.
In the final one-act, "May the Best Fan Win" (directed by Wiess senior Jim Sheng and Wiess juniors Olivia Hu and Chloe Nguyen), the concept of sportscasters commentating on sports enthusiasts watching sports was amusing in theory, but the slow pace detracted from its entertainment value. However, the ending, in which the sportscasters (Wiess freshmen Yash Tarkunde and Marlene Rizo) replay a slow-motion victory dance featuring the sports fans (Wiess freshmen Kathy Wei and Jessica Dawson), was entertaining.
There were a couple of acts that fell slightly short. Directors Max Payton and Christian Hauser, both Wiess juniors, made their one-act, "There Shall Be No Bottom," extremely bizarre. Though the play was amusing at times, its ending was abrupt and perplexing.
"The Break-Up," directed by Wiess sophomores Ryan Deal, Isabel Scher and Gavin Cross, was another unusual one-act that compared a girl's (Wiess freshman Priyanka Chandraker) relationship with her mom (Wiess freshman Morgen Smith) to her relationship with her boyfriend (Wiess freshman Malik Wilson). The twist in which the mom and the ex-boyfriend end up dating was even odder.
"No More Mister Nice Guy," on the other hand, is an example of wonky done right. Directed by Wiess seniors Naomi Fa-Kaji and Karen Li, the one-act portrays a nice teacher (Wiess freshman Yasmin Khalfe) who is arrested for being, well, too nice. Once the audience gets on board with the idea that kindness is frowned upon and that awful people, such as Ricky the resident jerk (Wiess freshman Ryan Newell), are venerated as heroes, things get entertaining. The good cop/bad cop routine (Wiess freshman Brian Wahlig as good cop and Wiess freshman Greg Harper as bad cop) displayed some excellent chemistry, especially with Newell's collar-popping extravaganza of a performance.
One of the best things about Wiess Tabletop's production is that it never took itself too seriously. Directors Wiess senior Meredith Jackson and Wiess senior Thomas Ladd's exemplified this feel-good mood with their play "Murder Most Foul: the Search for William Marsh Rice's Gold." The tree (Wiess freshman Cary Okerlund) broke the fourth wall from the get-go by acknowledging that, as a member of a low-budget production, he was really just a guy with a few leaves taped on; this was a running gag that the treasure-hunting students (Wiess freshmen Josh Kaye and Monique Groen) playfully went along with. This fun atmosphere helped make "Murder Most Foul" one of the strongest one-acts in the series, with its excellent performances, an entertaining plot line involving Albert Patrick's scheming ancestor (Wiess freshman Stephen Xia) and its cheeky references to Rice University culture.
The best play of the night was "Sportscenter, Uncut" (directed by Wiess juniors Marie Chatfield, Matt Keene and Andie Eikenberg), which brilliantly portrayed an oddly feminine sportscasting trio (Wiess freshmen Sam Gavenman, Allen Hu and Raymond Cano) who constantly frustrated their much-manlier-in-comparison stage manager (Wiess freshman Lucy Matveeva).
There was even a funny moment when Matveeva's character tried to drown her sorrow in a can of Frio Light, which led to a few snickers from an audience clearly amused by college students' poor taste in beer. The gender-reversal humor throughout the play was strikingly similar to the Harvard Sailing Team's "Boys Will be Girls" series. However, "Sportscenter" infused this premise with a life of its own thanks in large part to the chemistry that Gavenman, Hu and Cano brought to the table. From Hu's brilliantly effeminate character to Gavenman's fantastically sassy persona to Cano's mentally unstable character as the desperate ex-boyfriend, this trio stole the spotlight with the best performances of the night.
As a low-budget production, the play was by not a masterpiece in set design, sound, costumes or lighting, but at the end of the day, none of that really mattered. There were no glaring technical issues, and the minimalist approach was appropriate given the overall playful nature. That the acts sometimes cheerily made fun of their production's inherent shortcomings did not hurt, either.
All in all, Wiess' Freshman One-Acts were an enjoyable experience. While some acts were a little rough around the edges, there were a fair amount of standout performances and a light-hearted atmosphere that any spectator could appreciate.