Despite Talented Performances, OSTA’s Fall Showcase Proves Disappointing

Anne Pride-Wilt, Staff Writer

This years’s Oberlin Student Theater Association Fall Showcase, which ran from Oct. 3–5 at the Cat in the Cream, was disadvantaged in design. As the showcase consisted of a series of six short scenes written, directed and performed by Oberlin students, no one was expecting a professional production, but the patchwork sensibility — or rather, the lack of any unifying sensibility whatsoever — left the audience reeling from the disorienting inconsistency in the quality of writing and performance. While a valiant effort appears to have been exerted by all involved, the showcase’s strengths could not overcome its weak foundation, resulting in a production that was intriguing and occasionally excellent but frustratingly uneven.

The performance began with skit called, “Midlife Couplet” written by College first-year Harley Foos. The scene, a representation of a flailing poetry reading that quickly derails into marital crisis, was fascinatingly staged. Part of the action took place in the audience, with actor Artie Octavio, a College first-year, performing his role from a table in front of the platform. The scene was earnestly acted by College first-years Michael Jappe and Rita Grosbard in the roles of the unhappy couple, but the writing suffered from an excess of Revolutionary Road-style suburban angst, eliciting more eye rolls than would be ideal at the beginning of any performance.

Unfortunately, the second scene, “On Pain of Memory” by College sophomore Amelia Durham, did nothing to cut the melodrama, although Grosbard filled in admirably for a sick performer Saturday night. Her reading from the script did not diminish the scene at all. While the dialogue was competently written, the plot reached semi-ridiculous levels of tragedy, as the short scene segued from cancer, to divorce, to vehicular manslaughter to alcoholism in the span of ten minutes, rendering any non-ironic emotional response impossible in its excess.

The latter part of the show was mercifully lighter in tone, although darker themes never entirely receded. In the whimsical “Guidance” by College senior Zach Weinberg, a deluded, mouthwash-chugging guidance counselor, played to humorous effect by College first-year Zoë Davidson, waylays an unsuspecting student into serving, in an amusing, if predictable, role reversal as a source of guidance for the counselor herself. Following hot on its heels was the surreal but strangely entertaining “In the Garden” by College junior Madeline Cline, featuring excellent performances from Jappe and College sophomore Greer Jansen. Once the scene played out the charm of its childlike naivety, however, it became clear that the script was trying to manufacture profundity where it didn’t really exist.

The highlight of the show was College senior Colin Wulff’s “The Martyr Matters,” which drew on some of the same elements of surrealism as “Guidance,” but with more narrative drive and thus ultimate success. Wulff’s premise concerned five robed individuals squabbling sophistically over which of them ought to suck it up and allow themselves to be ritually slaughtered for the pleasure of their pretzel-based deity. The bright spots of the effective ensemble cast were the hilarious College first-years Jacob Baron and Romina Nemaei, the latter of whom was also featured in “On Pain of Memory.” While the skit began to drag after a while and eventually exhausted its premise, it culminated in a surprising, thoughtful ending, one of the few in the showcase.

The final skit, College sophomore Maggie Bussard’s “Loner Joe’s Bar and Grill,” set itself, unsurprisingly, in a creepy loner’s bar and meandered aimlessly for a while before ending with no resolution, although College freshman Jenny Kneebone’s performance was a bright spot. On the whole, however, the skit served as an unsatisfactory ending to the showcase, as it barely managed to end itself in a creative way. Unfortunately, the scene recalled the less effective sketches instead of the best, reducing the impact of the showcase on the audience and leaving viewers dissatisfied during the final bows.

The OSTA showcase had many promising scripts and performances, but it never quite managed to come together over its disadvantages. The structure of simply sewing together unaffiliated and radically different sketches into one show requires a solid resolution, which the audience of the OSTA Showcase never got. However, the many bright spots apparent in the writing and cast bodes well for this year’s OSTA performances. There is plenty of talent available — it just wasn’t fully utilized in this showcase.