Lives of the Saints doesn't add up to gospel
“I thought I was going insane today. I put my eye drops in my ears, and my ear drops in my eyes. Now I feel like I’m deaf in this eye, but I’ve 20/20 hearing.”
This line about sums up the nonsensical comedy of the latest School of Drama production, The Lives of the Saints. The show, a collection of seven one-act plays performed in quick succession, raises interesting questions about the way we live. But as a School of Drama production, the show falls short in a couple of key ways — both in captivating the entirety of its audience and in properly showcasing the talents of the student actors.
Like the other elements of the show, the set is colorful and nonsensical. As viewers enter the theater, they are greeted by a stage washed in white, with zany streaks and splotches of paint coloring the scene. Dripping paint cans line the edge of the stage. And upon closer inspection, viewers find that the whitewashed walls surrounding the stage aren’t just walls, but white-painted door frames and cabinet facades stacked one on top of the other.
The show itself is a seven-part series of one-act plays by playwright David Ives. Each short clocks in at about 15 minutes, allowing for a period of quickly delivered dialogue before jumping to the next mini-play, usually with a strange and somewhat psychedelic transition with eerie lighting and noise.
Every short has its own quirky backdrop. In “The Mystery at Twicknam Vicarage,” all three suspects dramatically confess to killing a sex-crazed man before the victim springs back to life on his living room floor. In “Soap Opera,” a Maypole repairman falls in love with his childhood washing machine. And in “Arabian Nights,” a wild miscommunication across language barriers leads to a passionate declaration of love. All the while, the clever and pun-ridden dialogue moves the scenes at a rapid pace.
Though this setup makes for a thought-provoking and unusual production, it doesn’t seem a particularly thoughtful choice for a School of Drama show. The characters are quirky and distinct, but hardly have time to develop in the 15 minutes they each have on stage. With this patchwork effect and without a unifying narrative, the show feels like a string of technical exercises rather than a full production. And for the actors, the show presented a one-sided set of challenges: The scenes were technically difficult, but didn’t require that the actors convey any broad character change or growth — a different kind of challenge.
Furthermore, there seemed to be a split in the audience between those who stayed entertained throughout and those who, without compelling characters to latch onto, tired easily from the incessant and repetitive dialogue. A few viewers even left the theater early — an unusual event at a School of Drama show. In this way, the show seemed a hit-or-miss from viewer to viewer.
Since this production deviated so far from other School of Drama productions, the acting is hard to evaluate. There were certainly times when exchanges between actors feel like shouting matches rather than dialogue — sometimes out of necessity — and in such a precisely timed production, at times the actors’ effort showed through the carefully rehearsed scenes.
Of course, in no way should the sheer amount of work that went into this production be minimized, and there are many moments during which the actors’ technical skills shine. In “Enigma Variations,” the actors take turns mimicking each other’s gestures in almost-perfect synchronization — at times, even mouthing the words that leave the other actor’s mouth. In “Captive Audience,” a TV man (senior acting major Antonio Marziale) and a TV woman (senior acting major Taylor Rose) serve as the voices that emerge from a TV set, rapidly switching gears every time the viewers change the channel.
In introducing a wide array of characters, the show also highlights the actors’ versatility in shifting from one role to another. Senior acting major Michelle Veintimilla gave one of the most convincing overall performances, first as a confused woman experiencing déjà vu in “Enigma Variations,” as a sword-wielding businesswoman in “Babel’s in Arms,” and as an exasperated housewife in “Captive Audience.” Her voice brings a distinct sauciness to each of the characters she portrayed.
Rose and Veintimilla achieved probably the two most entertaining performances of all in the final mini-play, “Lives of the Saints.” They played Flo and Edna, old women with heavy accents who hobbled around an imaginary kitchen, exchanging nonsensical dialogue on topics ranging from urinating ducks to pickled pig’s feet. This scene — as the final installment of the show — is punctuated by a bizarre reference to the Last Supper, with the entire cast of characters seated at a long table weighed down with food.
As a School of Drama production, Lives of the Saints has both successful and unsuccessful elements. It is an unusual choice, and perhaps not the best choice in terms of both its audience reception and its role as a student-acted production. Regardless, Lives of the Saints elicits more than a few laughs and showcases its actors in more than one light, making for a quirky final main stage production to end the school’s centennial celebration. Lives of the Saints runs through April 26.