There’s no doubt Wiess Tabletop is an underdog in the Rice University theater world. With freshmen actors and student directors, Wiessmen have nowhere near the resources available to larger, more well-funded groups like The Rice Players or VADA. But perhaps the yearly tradition has left students with some secrets to the trade. With minimalist sets, general lighting and little to no tech, the opening comedy acts of the year had little to impress with other than the prowess of the individual actors. In spite of these limitations, the show satisfied, turning out consistent performances and a solid host of laughs.
“Swipe Right,” written and directed by Ryan Deal and Mikali Khan, also with direction from Vicky Comesanas, kicked off the night. The subject material hit close to home — a spinoff of social media dating at Rice — and the acting was solid. Lead actress Laura Dickman performed exceptionally well, feeding the other actors onstage with her energy. Akash Ghosal conveyed similiar exuberance, jumping from his chair at one point to address the audience.
“Murder by Midnight,” originally written by Jeff Goode and reinvented by Max Payton and Benjamin Laun, proved equally enjoyable. Telling the story of a classic bad detective who allegedly murdered as many people as he investigated, this act was entertaining, if not exemplary. Izzy Rodriguez, despite his obvious gender limitations, played a convincing woman, which stopped this act from disappearing in the shadows.
“Chocolate Affair” by Stephanie Alison Walker tackled an interesting and difficult story — that of a mother balancing work life and family while coping with an eating disorder to boot. In the midst of comedy, this proved to be one of the more serious shows of the night, despite its fantastical imagery (think candy bars that come to life). Some of the blocking choices, by directors Yash Tarkunde, Kathy Wei and Marlene Rizo, seemed cumbersome at times, but it didn’t upset the scene as much as the somewhat awkward attempt to balance seriousness and comedy. Dealing with a delicate subject, the act was ambitious to begin with, perhaps too much so for the nature of tabletop, and it didn’t seem to settle well.
Tabletop also offered Walter Wykes’s “Family 2.0,” directed by Kyle Adams and Ariana Morgan, Wayne S. Rawley’s “Controlling Interest,” directed by Josh Kaye, Greg Harper and Sam Gavenman, “A Noire,” written and directed by Molly Cisneros and Weston Novelli, and “Nude Scene,” or every actor’s worst nightmare, by Hadi Tabani, Andie Eikenberg and Matt Keene.
As a whole, the directors made the best of a resource-limited situation. The show choices played to the strengths of the actors — the characters were either common archetypes or someone around the age of the actor playing the role. These two decisions simplified the complicated process of creating a show, perfect for getting the most out of an inexperienced person in any field, but especially theater.
But with so many acts in such a short amount of time, Tabletop really only scratched the surface of its material. They baked a cake and just took a bit of the frosting. Rest assured, though, Tabletop isn’t going anywhere — Wiessmen have a formula, and they know what they are doing.
A&E Editor Sophie Newman contributed to this article.