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New Works Festival is a triumph in student-led productions at U.Va.

With original works written by five University students, the New Works Festival portrays relationship troubles and comedic trysts with creative flourish

<p>The shows in the 2024 New Works Festival span from the Regency Era to the Zoom Era, but they all focus on the overarching theme of relationships and their importance — no matter how dysfunctional they may be.</p>

The shows in the 2024 New Works Festival span from the Regency Era to the Zoom Era, but they all focus on the overarching theme of relationships and their importance — no matter how dysfunctional they may be.

On a busy Thursday night on Arts Grounds, the student-led, annual New Works Festival opened with resounding success. Produced by Associate Drama Professors Dave Dalton and Doug Grissom, students performed five original works written, directed and designed by their peers. Each play had the audience laughing out loud and holding back tears with shows about relationships among friends, family and even PTA members.

The festival opens with “Café of Babel,” written by fourth-year College student Ava MacBlane and directed by fourth-year College student Angel Lin. Depicting a troubled couple on a coffee date, one can tell from their passive-aggressive exchanges that each person has a different vision for the future of their relationship. 

While the ever-so creative and imaginative Leah — played by first-year College student Katie Rice — waited for a proposal that she was convinced would occur, her “finance-bro” partner Nick — played by fourth-year College student Jumi Hall — contemplates the end of their relationship. The piece is filled to the brim with witty pop-culture references and strings of “blah blah blahs,” showing just how little the characters care about each others’ interests. 

As the interaction progresses, viewers watch Leah and Nick’s frustrations rise as Nick answers his ringing phone over and over again. The lighting for this show is a particular standout in portraying the rising frustrations — spotlights on the individual characters effectively reveals their lack of proper communication and overarching self-centeredness.

“The Sapphire Hyacinth'' follows MacBlane’s play — a comedic period piece written by fourth-year College student Becca Davis and directed by fourth-year College student Holly Acker. Featuring a gaggle of Regency Era elites discussing their romantic lives, the show is filled with comedic banter and well-written character development that keep the audience captivated until the final moments.

Beyond the aforementioned twist, an outstanding aspect of this piece is the word-play in the dialogue of Prudence, played by second-year student Bryce Kirkland. As she mixes up common words with inappropriate innuendos and fails to properly translate French, her dialogue is a wonderful touch that compliments the overarching narrative. 

Similarly impressive were the portrayals of the overlapping relationships between Oriolda — played by fourth-year College student Lela Howard-Trainer, Lavinia — played by second-year College student Sophia Fox, Prudence, and Audebert — played by second-year Architecture student Darnell Glover. As they begin to find out more about each other and grow throughout the production, the audience is left feeling satisfied and well-acquainted with the charming characters in front of them.

Transitioning back into modern times, the next piece in the festival is entitled “I Hate My Sister,” written by second-year College student Maggie Polistina and directed by third-year College student Yingying Elisa Hu. In this piece, two sisters — Ellie, played by first-year College student Katie Rice and Stephanie, played by first-year College student Kate Hovey — deal with the overwhelming emotion of their eldest sister getting married and their own fears of being left behind. 

The two sisters’ emotions — while over the top — are incredibly relatable to any audience members who have ever been left fearing the uncertainty of change or adulthood, and the organic-feeling dialogue and blocking intertwine the sisters in a seamless way that shows just how deep their relationships run. 

The scene boils over when the eldest sister, Gwen — played by third-year College student Maggie Crowner — comes to visit her sisters to show them her wedding dress. Her entrance forces a conversation that seems to have been a long time coming, and the deep-rooted emotion of the interaction is palpable as the sisters reveal their true emotions. An incredibly well-fleshed out show, “I Hate My Sister” flawlessly depicts the complexities of familial relationships.

Some of the most poignant acting performances of the festival are found in “Running Out of Time,” a masterful piece written by third-year College student Mary Hall and directed by fourth-year College student Alexandra Figueroa Chacin. The performance follows two characters, Celeste — fourth-year College student Angel Lin — and Jacob — first-year student Cai Luzak — navigating an awkward post-break up meeting. 

As the scene progresses, it becomes clear that Jacob still has feelings for Celeste. He tells her that he wants to get back together with her, which increases the tension in the scene tenfold. Both actors portrayed their complex emotions towards each other with the utmost poise and nuance. In a scene underscored by the sound of a ticking clock, the audience saw the raw complexities of a tumultuous relationship playing out right in front of their eyes.

In stark contrast to the heightened emotions of “Running Out of Time,” “Karens” is the perfect end to the show. Written by second-year College student Abby Milne and directed by fourth-year Commerce student Megan Wenig, “Karens” portrays the dramatic Zoom meeting of a snooty private school PTA. 

Laughs fill the theater when the multitude of catty women — appropriately all named “Karen” — gossip about Mackenzie Blackburn, a new PTA member played by first-year College student Anila Noushin. Each of the characters represented a different flaw of what society often calls a “Karen,” — with roles spanning from nosy stay-at-home moms to pseudo-spiritualists with a proclivity for rudeness — and the sharp, snappy dialogue is wonderfully supported by quick-witted actors that leave the audience in stitches. 

As the scene comes to a close, a twist is revealed about president Karen Olson, and the reactions from the cast were as perfect as they could possibly get as characters spin their chairs around and slide offstage to exit the Zoom meeting. A triumph in aspects from blocking to writing, “Karens” certainly closes the show with a bang.

The shows in the 2024 New Works Festival span from the Regency Era to the Zoom era, but they all focus on the overarching theme of relationships and their importance — no matter how dysfunctional they may be. The acting, directing and writing alike are impressive and show that the University’s drama department has a great deal of talent in its midst. 

The annual festival will continue until Saturday, with performances that are sure to wow the University community.


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