New Works Festival showcases the talent of the University

Four student-written plays debuted at the Drama Department this past weekend

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The New Works Festival will feature four plays written, directed and put on by students through March 8. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Editor's note: Major plot details of each show are discussed in this article.

This past weekend, the Drama Department presented its fourth annual New Works Festival, which is co-sponsored by the Drama Department and an Arts Enhancement Grant. The festival consisted of four plays written by third and fourth-year students. Weeks of hard work put into the production of these shows resulted in a successful showcase of writing, directing and acting talent by students of the University.

The first play of the night, “Door Knock,” written by fourth-year College student Caky Winsett and directed by third-year College student Fiona O'Reilly Sanchez, is a relatable comedy about the nervousness which occurs before a first date. The play focuses on Greg, played by third-year College student Reed Foster, and Catherine, third-year College student Maille-Rose Smith, as they are about to go on a Tinder date together. Greg is a nervous wreck who is struggling to knock on Catherine’s door, causing her in turn to worry about Greg’s tardiness to the date. Greg — accompanied by a terrible wingman, played by third-year Engineering student Ryder Sadler — and Catherine — who has an equally terrible wingwoman, played by second-year College student Rainah Gregory — spend the majority of the show trying to self-soothe their bubbling anxiety. To make matters worse, their respective friends constantly tear Greg and Catherine down to try to prevent the date. In the best way possible, the entire show is a cringe-fest. Viewers can relate to the horror of preparing for a date they are dreading, and the two protagonists of this play do not hide their fears.

Ever wonder what goes on in the imagination of a child? The festival’s second play of the night, “Child’s Play, or the Bear,” written by fourth-year College student Jess Miller and directed by fourth-year Commerce student Rachel Clark, oddly answers that question. Clever yet jarring, Miller’s play is a linear story told from the perspective of a child. The show features three players — a man portrayed by first-year College student Javier Perez, a woman played by fourth-year Engineering student Halle Wine and a plush teddy bear. Each player has multiple roles throughout the story and is aided by projections that humorously point to the player and states what character or object they are playing.

In one of the funniest moments of the night, the woman said, “I am now a prostitute,” eliciting a hearty laugh from the audience. The show automatically dives into a world of prostitutes, cops and even dinosaurs. For a child’s play, Miller’s plot revolves around mature topics such as infidelity, alcoholism and emotional abuse. Unfortunately for those fond of all things cute, the show features the most outlandish, gruesome death of a teddy bear ever seen on Grounds. In the end, “Child’s Play, or the Bear” leaves the audience pondering how a child was ever exposed to such mature and violent themes.

The third play of the night, “Secretaries” written by fourth-year College student Elizabeth Bangura and directed by fourth-year College student Ash Giddings, begins as a relatable story of annoying coworkers, then evolves into a thought-provoking social commentary on mainstream feminism. The play focuses on two coworkers at a pet talent agency, Stephanie and Jasmine, played by second-year College student Tanaka Muvavarirwa and first-year College student Haeli Knox, respectively. As they discover their boss is not the best person to be employed by, Jasmine proposes an idea that may cost her and Stephanie their jobs. 

However, in a sharp turn in tone for the play, Stephanie refuses to go along with Jasmine’s plan. Throughout the show, Jasmine tries to convince Stephanie to go along with her until Stephanie finally explains that she cannot risk her job because she is a woman of color with very few options. In a poignant speech, Stephanie enlightens Jasmine that not all women are afforded the same liberties.

Community member Lee Smith reflected on the play’s messaging after it’s conclusion. 

“I mean the saying goes, ‘if your feminism is not intersectional, then your feminism is s—t,’” Smith said.

“Secretaries” definitely makes that point clear.

The featured show of the night was “The Art of Being an OK Person,” by Isabella Ullman, a third-year in the College and award-winning playwright, directed by second-year College student Mj Smith. This play was very much the embodiment of the “... you’re wondering how I got here” meme. The plot revolves around a series of very unfortunate events told by MacKenzie, played by fourth-year College student Casey Breneman, to an unwilling Officer, second-year College student Brody McDevitt. For the entire story, MacKenzie ruins relationships with her boyfriend, second-year College student Matthew Oley, and best friend, second-year College student Haden Cunningham, and terrorizes strangers — played by fourth-year College student Zachary Gorman and second-year College students Karen Zipor and Olivia Morrison — all in the pursuit of love. 

Without giving away too much, MacKenzie is the worst. She has been banned from multiple restaurants — including Taco Bell — and blocked on every social media platform — even Venmo. Her story ends up being an engaging examination of the psychology of a pretty terrible person. While thoroughly amusing, the show does seem a little tone-deaf following the commentary on fourth-wave feminism by “Secretaries.” After the incisive critique Bangura’s play offered, MacKenzie’s exploits felt like a disjointed, if still entertaining, way to end the night of student productions. “The Art of Being an OK Person” ends as MacKenzie escapes her criminal charges through a couple of Twinkies and a funny story.

The nuance and ingenuity of these shows were wildly diverse and interesting in the scope of topics they covered. From the first-date jitters presented by “Door Knock” to the gruesome teddy bear murder in “Child’s Play,” the fourth annual New Works Festival is the perfect place to get your fill of the University’s local talent.

The New Works Festival is produced by Assistant Professor Dave Dalton and Associate Professor Doug Grissom, with scenic design by guest lecturer Batul Rizvi, lighting design by third-year M.F.A. student Julie Briski, digital media design by fourth-year College student Andrew Carluccio and sound design by first-year M.F.A. student James Nicholas. The New Works Festival continues with more performances March 3-5 at 8 p.m. in the Helms Theatre. Tickets are available through the U.Va. Arts Box Office. 

This article has been updated to include the names of the New Works Festival design team and directors.

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