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In the five decades since the 1960s, anti-military sentiment has become much more mainstream. It is no longer unusual to see celebrities and other public figures decry the numerous conflicts in which the U.S. is entangled. The dream of martial glory has been so tarnished by our conflicts that generations of Americans have grown up without a collective desire to go to war. The Rice Theatre Program and Rice Players’ production of “Dogfight,” however, is intent on returning us to a time when military service was venerated, in order to look back at the horror and indecency that accompany it. Though the play is a tremendous display of Rice’s acting and musical talent, its content leaves many troubling issues unresolved.
We live in a world concocted almost entirely of hearsay. The internet ensures that misleading or false information can spread much faster than any attempt to correct or contextualize it. Barriers between fact and fiction are difficult to enforce, and attempts to do so are recast as attempts to promote some narrative or another. In the midst of that epistemological turmoil, the Rice University Theatre Program’s production of “Rumors,” directed by Rice Theatre Director Christina Keefe, is a welcome reminder that it is okay to laugh at misinformation.
If you are anything like me, your first experience with sexuality was not the suave, controlled, balletic interplay of gleaming flesh and whispered confidences that is so often presented as the norm in popular culture. For most of us, that inaugural moment of physical — if not mental or emotional — maturity is marked not so much by sensuous rhythm as by awkward fumbling, too much of some things, and far too little of others. It is difficult to feel proud of or reminisce fondly about these experiences. And yet, there is an honesty inherent to this lack of polish, an earnestness that diminishes as we become more confident — or simply better at hiding how confusing relationships can be. The production of “Spring Awakening” by Sid Richardson and Will Rice Colleges shares many of these qualities with its subject matter; though the production makes some missteps and is marred by myriad technical issues, it attains an earnest, stripped-down quality which makes the play thoroughly enjoyable.
It is clear that our country currently faces a charged political environment. Whatever views one holds about the upcoming election, it is easy to be swept up in the virulent language that each side vigorously deploys. The Rice visual and dramatic arts department strides confidently into this charged political climate with a production of “Julius Caesar” that highlights the similarities between our American system and the age-old drama of despotism, democracy and rhetoric. In “Julius Caesar,” the VADA department appears to have done the improbable: With a minimal set, simple costuming and in large part retaining the original language, the cast and crew manage to capture the spirit and passion of the Shakespearian tragedy while connecting it to modernity.
The unique power of myth is simplicity. By reducing characters to a few key traits and flaws, myths allow a reader to reflect on those qualities in their own life. In contrast to myth, real life is complex and difficult to understand, filled with self-contradiction, unclear motivation and shades of gray. In “Eurydice,” author Sarah Ruhl seeks to combine the intricacies of the real world with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the resultant mixture comes across as both too modern for its inspiration and too simple for its overall tone. Though the Rice Theatre Program’s rendition of the play, directed by Christina Keefe, is assisted by some competent set design and direction, the play as a whole fails to find an overarching theme and ultimately fails to entertain.
What does it mean to protest? Can one really commit time, energy and willpower to a cause greater than their own self-interest, and do so without reservation? In The Rice Players’ production of “The Altruists,” directed by Rice alumna Susannah Morgan Eig (Jones ’14) and written by Nicky Silver, these questions are answered with a resoundingly ironic shrug. The play’s caricature of bohemian Manhattan is rife with social justice, higher causes and irate protesters, but these do not form the conflict of the piece. Rather, much like its vain characters, the play focuses on the petty personal conflicts of its so-called protagonists, and the result is a fantastic work of satire that forces the viewer to re-examine their own actions and question how truly altruistic they are.
An improvisational comedy show, a one-act play, a short story and a theater revue all have something in common: They seek to entertain in a short period of time. In an improv show, the hilarity of a constructed situation is constantly exploited; in a one-act play, constraints on length keep the action moving for the play’s duration; in short stories, the plot is often structured like a joke, with tension building to a punchline. For theater revues, however, there is no set structure. Consisting of scenes from different plays, revues are naturally somewhat eclectic and should have a unifying theme of some kind. Taking into account that loose dictum, those who put together a theater revue still have the entire catalogue of theater to choose scenes from. The ability to select scenes that work well in the format of a revue is in large part what separates directors of enjoyable theater revues from directors of more mediocre productions. Unfortunately, Hanszen Theatre’s “Benchmark: A Theatre Revue,” directed by Hanszen College junior Rachel Buissereth, is marred by an absence of this selective ability.
Modern adaptations of Shakespeare face many hurdles on the road to success. When directors try to update or adapt the play in some way, so as to make it more approachable, they risk doing more to harm the message of the play than to help it. Too much consideration for contemporary humor and fashion can cheapen or distract from a play’s intended effect. In the Rice Theatre Program’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” director Amelia Fischer skillfully navigated this pitfall by retaining the original script and simply shifting the setting to the more familiar 19th-century Texan countryside. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable version of the play that allows the audience to appreciate the literary aesthetic of each Shakespearean turn of phrase, while also breathing new emotional and comedic life into the script.
A month from now, four theaters in Houston’s historic East End will be taken over by one of the more eclectic collections of music, theater and dance in Texas, otherwise known as the Houston Fringe Festival. Running Sept. 24 to 27, the Houston Fringe Festival will feature a “neo-burlesque troupe,” several multimedia dance projects and a play about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many other projects. Right in the middle of the artistic fray is The Speak Up Project, a play written, performed and directed by Rice students that explores the reality of sexual assault through a variety of perspectives.