Six Weber State University students are taking their turn in the director’s chair during the university’s upcoming One Act Play Festival.
This year’s festival offers an eclectic selection of material — including realism, absurdism and magic realism — with works by Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams, as well as a new play by a WSU student playwright. The event is held every other year.
The plays are presented in repertory in the Browning Center’s black-box theater over the course of the five-day festival, which begins Tuesday, April 9, at the university. Each of the plays, ranging in length from 20 to 45 minutes, will be performed three times during the festival. The works were selected by the student directors who are enrolled in an advanced directing course taught by WSU theater professor Tracy Callahan.
The festival is an opportunity for the community to visit the university and see how the students have collaborated with one another to make some theater magic. Callahan is confident the public will be impressed with the students’ wide-ranging talents — both on and off the stage.
“You can come one night and see three shows,” Callahan said. “It’s really fun, and it’s got that festival feel.”
Down the rabbit hole
Two of the directors for the festival are senior Trent Cox, who directed last year’s production of “The Cradle Will Rock,” and senior Jenessa Bowen, who selected another student’s play for her directorial debut.
Bowen, who grew up in Farmington and comes from a family deeply immersed in the world of theater, selected the play “Never-Wonderland” by WSU student Shauna Ross.
Bowen has appeared in a number of local theatrical performances in the past year, including “The Comedy of Oedipus,” “Lucky Stiff,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Next to Normal” in which she played troubled teen daughter Natalie.
“It’s kind of ‘Next to Normal’ meets the world of fairy tales,” Bowen said of “Never-Wonderland,” about a young girl who has experienced a traumatic event. In dramatic, psychological fashion, Bowen said, the play heads down the rabbit hole of abstract magical realism when fairy tale characters come to life on the stage to help tell the girl’s story.
The play is a “hugely technical show,” Bowen said, including special lighting and sound effects and even a beanstalk that descends from the catwalk. Her four actors are kept busy playing a number of characters in a story that references “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Peter Pan” — just to name a few.
As director, Bowen said she has come to appreciate on an even greater level how critical collaboration is in the process of creating good theater.
“I appreciate everybody so much because this show does ask for so much and calls for people who have passion, drive and a great attitude,” Bowen said. “Every single one of them has been a pleasure to work with.”
Callahan — who sits in on rehearsals along with other theater instructors who serve as mentors — said her favorite part of the process is seeing how the students work to bring their vision to the stage by collaborating with other students, including actors, costume and set designers, and technicians.
“It is all hands-on student work,” Callahan said, “I find that an exciting forum from an educational perspective.”
Death in a sandbox
For his piece in the festival, Cox selected Albee’s one-act play “The Sandbox” because it’s a story Cox said he couldn’t stop thinking about when he first read it.
Cox is majoring in directing at the university and has appeared in several of its productions, including “Charm,” “The Will Rogers Follies” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
“It is a play that haunted me — in a good way,” Cox said of “The Sandbox,” a 1959 absurdist work about a family, a grandmother who passes away in a sandbox and a young man who guides her way to the afterlife.
“It explores the process of mourning and how it is different for everyone,” Cox said.
Clocking in at 20 minutes, the play is the shortest piece in the festival and features a cast of five, Cox said.
Originally from St. George, Cox recently lost his own grandmother and was drawn to the story — as it takes a look at how people prepare for and deal with death, as well as the rituals involved with death.
“I want audience members to walk away considering how they view death,” Cox said of the play, which he said is an apt reminder for people to “live every single day of our lives to the fullest.”
“It’s really a beautiful show and there is a little something in there for everyone,” Cox said.
• “27 Wagons Full of Cotton” by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Scott Nielsen. (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday)
Jake, a middle-aged cotton-gin owner, sets fire to the gin of the Syndicate Plantation, managed by Silva Vicarro. Silva suspects Jake and sets out to seek justice and revenge for the case of arson. The struggle between these two men finds its victim in the form of Jake’s young wife, Flora.
• “Counting the Ways” by Edward Albee. Directed by Rick Rea. (Wednesday and both Saturday shows)
Through a “vaudeville” of 21 scenes, a middle-aged couple examines — or more accurately, over-analyzes — the meaning of love and whether or not they genuinely love one another. Using word play, game play, flower play and even creme-brûlée, the story reveals that the more logically you try to think about love, the further you get away from it.
• “Flowers for Algernon” by David Rogers. Directed by Jeremy Dabb. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday matinee.)
Charlie Gordon — a mentally handicapped man — is selected to undergo an experimental surgical technique to increase his intelligence. The technique had already been successfully tested on Algernon, a laboratory mouse. The surgery on Charlie is also a success and his IQ triples. As his intelligence increases, he realizes that those he thought were his friends were condescending and demeaning. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough until Algernon begins his sudden and unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
• “Never-Wonderland” by Shauna Ross. Directed by Jenessa Bowen. (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday matinee)
Sammy is holding onto a dark past that she has repressed. The only way that Dr. Darling can unlock the door to Sammy’s secrets is if he can enter her world of refuge ... a world of fairy tale. But an apparition by the name of “Girl” lives on in Sammy’s mind, and she isn’t going to let the doctor take Sammy away from her without a fight.
• “Picnic on the Battlefield” by Fernando Arrabal, translated by Barbara Wright. Directed by Ally Berry. (Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday)
In a surreal world of war, Zapo is a soldier stationed alone in battle. One day his family decides to make a surprise visit to see him on the battlefield. After all, what is better than a family picnic on a Sunday afternoon? The small event turns into quite a gathering as they are joined by corpsmen, an enemy soldier, and even the light drizzle of bombs.
• “The Sandbox” by Edward Albee. Directed by Trent Cox. (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday)
Grandma is nearing her inevitable moment of death. Mommy and Daddy bring Grandma to a beautiful beach to lay her to rest in a sandbox. This sets in motion an end-of-life ritual whose spiritual meaning has long since passed away. Grandma is met by Young Man, who helps her along her way.