Double shot of drama

“We just kidnap them,” said Karl Kempe, senior physics major and the managing director for Scotch ‘n’ Soda.

How else could a theater group recruit so many first-years? There was a lot of new blood at last weekend’s Double Shot performance in UC Peter/Wright/McKenna, a quick fix of drama in the form of two one-act plays: Molière’s The Pretentious Young Ladies and John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.

“It’s great, we have a huge new crop this year,” added Daniel Dewey, a sophomore majoring in computer science. “It’s about half of my cast.” Dewey directed Young Ladies, which called for a cast of 15. Of the four main characters, two were first-years: H&SS student Elyssa Goodman and SHS student Jaclyn Bernard.

A young company means more first-years on stage and more upperclassmen off it. “It’s almost like Scotch ’n’ Soda’s bottom-heavy with underclassmen right now,” Dewey said. First-years guarantee actors and crew members in plentiful amounts, but they lack the necessary experience to take on leadership positions.

As a result of this bottom-heavy dynamic, it’s become the responsibility of veteran S’N’S-ers to take the reigns; Double Shot involved all but one of the Scotch ’n’ Soda's board of directors. “There’s a certain point when you feel like you owe something to the organization,” Dewey said. “It’s a big jump from acting to directing.”

“We decided to have a board project because there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm to propose a play,” added Kempe, who directed Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. This year is Scotch ’n’ Soda’s first Double Shot performance since 2005. Last winter, the February time slot went to The Laramie Project, a longer production.

Even though Double Shot may seem like a modest performance, the set design was anything but. “The whole stage is higher up than it was for Laramie,” said Technical Director Alex Belton, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. For Double Shot, the Scotch ’n’ Soda technicians used nearly every scrap of material they could get their hands on. A few of the audience member’s chairs were even placed on a (closed) trap door because it was all that the group had left.

Load in, the process of moving all the necessary materials to the stage-to-be, took six hours — a lot, according to Belton. Double Shot involved two major intricacies. First, Belton and his crew created a small-scale version of stadium seating, intended to benefit those audience members stuck in the back. Second, the stage was constructed on an angle, which added an additional dimension of intimacy between the actors and audience members.

Unlike Laramie, which was also performed in Peter/Wright/McKenna, Double Shot offered decent visibility to the vast majority of its audience. That being said, those audience members who did have trouble seeing the stage were pretty much out of luck; those unfortunate few were trapped behind stage lights and similar visible obstacles.

The Pretentious Young Ladies

Though set in 17th-century France, The Pretentious Young Ladies addressed a problem still prevalent in modern society: namely, pretentiousness. Molière stretches his dialogue’s every word to its utmost capacity, creating a hilariously over-the-top version of high society where noses are called “smelling faculties” and those angry are “bursting with vexation.” At points, the conversation became even a bit hard to understand; if only Molière had written a pretentious-to-English dictionary.

The play tells the story of two hilariously showy young women (Goodman and Bernard) who are new to Paris and in search of love. Determined to prove that the pair’s standards for romance are hopelessly arbitrary, two wealthy young men (junior computer science major Kevin McInerney and MCS first-year Shaun Swanson) order their servants to attempt to win over the ladies. Through the use of God-awful original poetry, fabricated war stories, and general snob appeal, the servants (senior philosophy major Gerrit Betz and junior mechanical engineering major Robert Cavagnaro) succeed in wooing the young women. But at the play’s end the joke is on them as the original pair of gentlemen reveal their servants' identities.

Back in the day, the French upper class was intellectually fickle, clinging to new ideas, “wits” who practically sweated haughty poetry, and absurd fashion statements (men wearing heels, puffy shirts, bright colors, frills, etc.). With The Pretentious Young Ladies, Molière was intending to expose the state of French culture, which had evidently taken a turn for the ridiculous. Still, his message was not exclusive to distant Parisian past; those air-headed French ladies and gentlemen were only an accent away from “that guy” who won’t stop raising his hand in class — you know, the one who thinks he’s enlightening you with his words.

Stealing the show was Betz as the aptly named Mascarille, one of the duplicitous servants. CIT first-year Ankur Gupta also scored some laughs in the role of the deadpan father to the young ladies. Cavagnaro, who played the other servant, made goofiness into an art form for the purposes of his character. Also memorable was Goodman as Madelon, one of the young ladies, who pulled off an innumerable amount of hysterically air-headed monologues throughout the performance. Finally, sophomore English major Sarah Dansey was coolly comedic playing Marotte, the maid — basically the voice of reason in a city full of idiots.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

The slapstick shenanigans of Molière did little to prepare audience members for the dark humor of John Patrick Stanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. “[The contrast is] pretty sharp actually, if you watch them back-to-back,” Belton said.

Danny concerns only two characters, Danny (first-year computer science major Matt Goldfarb) and Roberta (junior English major Julie Brown). The play begins when Danny and Roberta meet in a bar, making small talk over beer and pretzels — if by small talk you mean intimate personal stories, shouting matches, and attempts at strangulation. By the time the audience learns Roberta’s name, she’s already confessed a number of details regarding her sex life. Danny and Roberta later make a trip back to her place, where the two seem to go through every stage in the relationship book at light speed. In less than 24 hours, the two have gone from cautious to enamored, then giddy to jaded — faster than you can say “The honeymoon is over.”

The play is refreshing in its uniqueness: Though rugged, bearded, and demonstrative of a tendency towards physical violence, Danny is clearly the more vulnerable of the two characters. It’s up to Roberta to encourage him about everything: his life, their future. Danny is inspiring, though not without flaws. Typical of a modern play, the audience thought it was over after the first scene. (And, in retrospect, maybe it should have been — the dialogue grew progressively less compelling.) Also, Danny was the type of play where you spend half the time waiting for someone to say “deep blue sea” so as to figure out what the hell the title even means.

As for the acting, it was impeccable. Goldfarb delivered the wounded, brooding Danny with heart-wrenching precision. Likewise impressive was Brown, able to capture the multiple dimensions of Roberta, probably the more complicated of the two characters.