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2013 Fall Showcase Displays Elite Talent of Suffolk Theater

The 2013 Fall Showcase – directed, written, and performed entirely by Suffolk University students, opened last Thursday and concluded this past Sunday to a packed Studio Theater for all five performances. The originality of the scripts, the pinpoint precision of stage managers and stage crew, and especially the talent and dedication displayed by each and every actor and actress should be an inspiration to everyone at Suffolk that has aspirations of achieving something meaningful during their time in school.

While the directors clearly worked on their ideas for their first productions for quite some time, the actors had a mere six rehearsals and a few technical run-throughs together to get prepared for opening night. In under one month’s time they learned their lines, worked on prop placement and found chemistry with one another in order to make their performances strikingly precise and impactful.

Yesterday

The play begins with “Yesterday,” a melancholic tale of love – lost and then rediscovered – and fate; written by junior Paige Monopoli. It centers around two time periods in the life of a man named Sam Harper. Sam is seen at the beginning of the play to be a bitter old writer (performed by junior Raphael Roy) who spends his days in a nursing home, haunted by a past that has waved him goodbye and struggling in the present with his sense of self-meaning.

"Yesterday" - starring Raphael Roy, Alex Pappas, Stephanie Rubino, and Eddie Hernon. Directed and written by Paige Monopoli

“Yesterday” – starring Raphael Roy, Alex Pappas, Stephanie Rubino, and Eddie Hernon. Directed and written by junior Paige Monopoli

We are shown that he was once a bright-eyed, handsome young man full of aspirations (played by freshman Eddie Hernon), whose broken heart was mended on a Boston Common bench by a lively and optimistic stranger (played by junior Stephanie Rubino) who convinced him that soul mates and the powers of fate are a very real thing. The interaction between Rubino and Hernon starts as delightfully awkward, and gradually moves into genuinely charming as the two become acquainted; in part because of a shared love of The Beatles.

The most goosebump-inducing scene comes when we learn that Sam and the woman, named Felicity, eventually get married and have a child, only for Felicity to pass away and leave Sam alone and brokenhearted once again. A haunting, vocals-only rendition of George Harrison’s “Something” plays as the ghost of Felicity embraces Sam, imploring him to not give up on living. This scene was certainly the most touching and tear-jerking moment in the entire showcase; the streams of tears pouring from the eyes of audience members being my proof of that.

Junior Alex Pappas gets a golf clap and an appreciative nod for playing the supporting character Mr. John Rossetti, a fellow lonely retiree at the nursing home. Pappas provides natural comedic relief but also gives a heartfelt pull at your emotions when he is finally accepted by Sam at the very end of the play.

“Yesterday” started off the showcase with a rare kind of power that tugs at your heart strings while simultaneously making you feel good and hopeful. As a writer, I truly felt the desperation and sadness coming from Sam as he attempted to write his memoir; being wholly unsatisfied with his attempts to sum up his life into words, despite writing coming so naturally in other situations. It’s hard to explain how, but “Yesterday” made me deeply sad and optimistic all at the same time. That range of emotions is certainly the sign of a great script and great performances from the cast.

Scalpel, Please

"Scalpel, Please" - starring: Alex Pappas, Raya Malcolm, Nick Castellano, Anna Martel, and . Written and directed by senior Conor Walsh.

“Scalpel, Please” – starring: Alex Pappas, Raya Malcolm, Nick Castellano, Anna Martel, and Bobby Zupkofska. Written and directed by senior Conor Walsh.

The audience is then treated to the raucously funny “Scalpel, Please,” written and directed by senior Conor Walsh. Alex Pappas stars as the endearingly stupid Dr. Honeyweather, a heart surgeon for a fictional Boston hospital in the 1980s, who certainly never took the Hippocratic Oath (or passed 5th grade for that matter). The show revolves around Honeyweather’s treatment of the pot-bellied “Mr. Bulgor,” a very serious and angry man, played by junior Nick Castellano. A “romantic” angle to the story is added through the stellar acting of sophomore Raya Malcolm, who portrays Mr. Bulgor’s dramatically over-the-top daughter Crystal and falls for Honeyweather.

Throughout the course of the play, Honeyweather bungles himself through scene after scene of hilarious interactions between nurses, members of the mob, and eventually, police officers. All the while, he displays a serious ineptitude to grasp even the most obvious of concepts; such as two mob hitmen entering his office and threatening him with a gun if Mr. Bulgor’s heart surgery should go wrong (he simply assumes they are gun enthusiasts).

“Scalpel, Please” is written in a way that encompasses slapstick, satire, misdirection, innuendo, absurdity, and everything good about comedy wrapped up into one fantastically amusing and enjoyable performance. Walsh certainly has an innate talent for writing such a style, as genuinely original and funny lines paint each scene with natural humor. The delivery in such comedy is always key to its success, and the acting from the entire cast (with special mention to Pappas and Malcolm) delivers so perfectly that you can’t help but laugh along and admire the performance all at the same time.

The plot ends with Mr. Bulgor being officially revealed as an alias for the one and only Whitey Bulger, who is busted by two nurses that turn out to be undercover police officers (played by juniors Anna Martel and Bobby Zupkofska). The police give Bulger the option to go to prison for the rest of his life, or to become an FBI informant who will go free as long as he rats out his friends and doesn’t go on the run (the obvious real-life satire was extremely well done). Dr. Honeyweather remains clueless to it all, but nabs Crystal regardless.

Daydream

The audience is then hit head-on with the showcase’s darkest, most complex, and most dramatic play. “Daydream,” written and directed by junior Tom Martin, is as surreal as it is powerful, and intensely emotional acting from Raphael Roy and senior Rebecca Bernardo ensure that this performance will be one that lives on in your mind well after the lights go off.

The story revolves around Dean (played by Roy), whose father has just died from a heart attack shortly after he moved away to New York to pursue a career in acting. He reunites with his old friend Rose (played by Bernardo), who left their small town inexplicably seven years ago without a trace and reappears to come to the funeral; facing the demons of her harrowed past and the friend she left behind.

The entirety of the play is shot with most of the stage in darkness. Only the actors’ spotlights and an eerie, hazy backdrop provide any illumination throughout the performance. The overall mood and feeling of the play is certainly a theme that is repeated multiple times throughout the dark story; is this a dream? Is this really happening? Is it a nightmare?

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“Daydream” – starring: Rebecca Bernardo, Raphael Roy, Laurie Riihimaki, and Joe Graham. Written and directed by Tom Martin.

While Bernardo and Roy play their tortured roles with palpable passion and undeniable commitment to their craft, the supporting characters, Dean’s dying older brother Luke (played by junior Joe Graham) and Dean’s mother Mona (played by junior Laurie Riihimaki), provide invaluable color and depth to the story. There wasn’t a performer on stage who was out of place.

In what I consider to be the best interaction of the play, Dean has a meltdown in front of Rose. He curses a Bible given to him by Luke (after asking Dean to kill him to avoid going through the horrors of his disease) and decries it as “full of stories and lies and broken promises.” He tears pages from the Bible as he grows more and more hysterical, until Rose is forced to grab him in an attempt to calm him down.

Rose must then explain why she ran away in the most emotional and spine-tingling monologue of the entire showcase. Bernardo’s acting is nothing short of superb as Rose starts calmly, almost matter-of-factly, stating how Dean’s father raped her; tears welling up in her eyes as she reveals her most regretful and painful memory. She then can’t contain the pain anymore and screams out in anguish that the only thing she could do was leave after it happened. “I wanted to tell you, or anybody, I did. But you don’t understand. I just couldn’t bear the thought of someone knowing that I was helpless. That I did nothing to help myself!” The way Bernardo delivered that line continues to give me shivers.

The lights darken into an eerie gloom for the plays climax, and Rose appears full of terror as she starts to leave, only to be cut off by Mona, who claims that Rose is a liar and was just a stupid lustful teenager. This altercation is going on simultaneously as we see Luke walk to his bed center stage and recite The Lord’s Prayer while lying down.

While Mona berates Rose for lying, Dean goes through with killing Luke by tightening his own neck tie around his throat and smothering him with a pillow, screaming in horror, “Forgive me! Please forgive me!” Mona enters the room, and flings Dean off of Luke, but it’s too late. Luke lies dead and, again, Roy’s fantastic acting is showcased as Dean convulses on the floor screaming as though he is having a nightmare from which there is no waking up.

In the final scene, Dean is lying in the same position as when the play started. Rose enters, sits on the bench and takes Dean hand as they look into each other’s eyes. “I believe in the afterlife,” says Dean. “Me too,” agrees Rose. “Do you think this is it?” asks Dean. Rose looks at him. “Either that or it’s just a dream.”

The writing of Martin is very impressive. His characters are believable (I feel as though everyone in life knows a Mona or two), his choice of music was hauntingly effective, and his story is definitely belonging of the “unique as hell” label.

The Dangers of Eating Dessert Before Dinner

"The Dangers of Eating Dessert Before Dinner" - starring: Stephen Cheuka, Sydney Grant, Joe Graham, and Katie Gast. Written by and directed by Alexa Costa

“The Dangers of Eating Dessert Before Dinner” – starring: Stephen Cheuka, Sydney Grant, Joe Graham, and Katie Gast. Written by Rachel Fund and directed by Alexa Costa

The final play of the 2013 Fall Showcase does a masterful job of cutting the tension from the prior show and sending the audience home with lasting smiles and sore cheeks. Written by Rachel Fund and directed by junior Alexa Costa, “Dessert” is set up and directed like a family-friendly prime time sitcom, with “commercial breaks” in between scenes and the use of an applause track as two examples of this style.

The plotline (or should I say “potline?”) and dialogue is nothing you’d see on PBS though. Young lover Eli (played by senior Stephen Cheuka) is planning a dinner to announce his engagement to his girlfriend. His plans are systematically ruined after his little sister Jo (played by Sydney Grant) leaves a plate of weed brownies on the kitchen table unattended. Eli’s whacky parents (played by Joe Graham and senior Katie Gast) ingest the brownies without knowing their true nature, and the fun begins.

Graham deserves a heaping amount of praise for his versatility in acting. Literally not 15 minutes had gone by since he got choked to death at his prompting in the previous play, and now he struts on stage  wearing a sweater vest and khakis, playing the single most perfect “embarrassingly white and geeky” dad role that I’ve ever seen live. His character is simply a riot, and Gast completes the parental duo with a “stoned mother” performance for the ages.

“Dessert” strings you along for copious puns, unexpected turns, and an overall non-stop barrage of laughs. Cheuka and Grant have great chemistry as brother and sister, and even the quintessential “lesson learned” ending that permeates all sitcoms was done in a sweet and satisfying way – with Jo telling Eli to stop being so miserable and stressed and to enjoy the good things he has.

The cast of “Dessert” must certainly enjoy acting together, because the on-stage laughter seemed real to me, and the audience was in stitches through its entirety.

The 2013 Fall Showcase is something that Suffolk students put their hearts and souls into, and then have the decency to not even charge their fellow students to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Without a doubt, the Showcase series is something that anyone, young or old, fans of theater or even an uncultured caveman like myself, can take in and resonate with something deep in their soul.

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