Red Door Play Festival fall 2023

Student actors and directors gathered together in the basement of the student union to watch student-run works

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Griffin Nielsen '27 and Tyler Motlasz '26 perform in 'Just a Stage He's Going Through', a Red Doors Show. Photo by Bella Castillo '25.

The Red Door Play Festival, organized by the Muhlenberg Theatre Association (MTA), took place this past weekend, Nov. 11-12. The performances showcased seven different plays and were coordinated by Kayla Hartman ‘24 and Sof Oberg ‘26, with assistant Skylyn Ellison ‘27. The festival occurs every semester, serving as an opportunity for student actors, directors and stage managers to come together and build experience in an open and creative environment. 

The first play shown during Sunday’s performance was “Area Code,” written by K Evans and directed by Shelby Mejia ‘24. “Area Code” explores the relationship between characters Quinn and Hannah. Despite a previous conflict, Hannah goes to pick up Quinn after someone calls saying she is drunk. Quinn doesn’t remember who she is or even her own name, but asks Hannah to tell her stories about Hannah’s life. Throughout the play, flashbacks reveal that Hannah and Quinn were in a committed relationship where Quinn helped Hannah to embrace her identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The play reaches its climax when a flashback reveals that Quinn never told her parents about the true nature of her and Hannah’s relationship for fear of losing their support, hence causing their breakup. The play ends with Hannah asking Quinn how the person who found her knew to call her number, to which Quinn replies “It was the only thing I could remember.” 

Mejia spoke on directing this piece, stating, “New works and queer shows are my passion, so doing ‘Area Code’ was such a gift. It was performed one other time at a different college so finding this show was quite difficult, but I’m so glad I did. While it has its joyful and romantic moments, the story contains so many challenges when two people who just want to be in love have to face a society that won’t accept them as they are.” Mejia then went on to say, “Sitting back and watching my actors work this weekend, I was amazed how they were able to balance the humor and emotional intensity of the piece so well and create a strong full-picture for our audience to enjoy. It was wonderful and I hope people enjoyed joining us for a ride on our chaotic, gay emotional rollercoaster!”

The second show to be performed was “A Good Christmas,” which was both written and directed by Steven Belloise ‘25. The play follows the character Josh as he navigates strained familial relationships during the holiday seasons with the support of his partner Mark. In describing the writing process, Belloise explained, “Writing this show, I mainly wanted a heartwarming Christmas story that the characters had to fight/work for. In one scene, Josh [myself] would be spilling his heart to Mark, referencing his feelings about his absent father, and in other scenes, they’d be flirting. I think the strong tone shifts were difficult to pull off, but I think they worked well in this story!” Despite heavier topics, the piece still inspired laughter in the audience. Belloise describes his favorite comedic moments, stating “ Putting Mark [Adin Gast ‘26] in the elf costume was always the idea and it was always going to be funny, but he really sold the audience on the idea. Another great part was Jean’s [Molly Woodward ‘26] fight with her dolls; it always got a huge laugh out of me both in rehearsals and during the performances.” 

However, this performance was not without challenges, Belloise mentions, “We definitely struggled through typical issues that most directors face with scheduling and the like, and I did need to step in along with the stage manager last minute to fill some of the roles, but I think that’s part of what makes live theater beautiful.” Belloise continued to highlight those who contributed to this performance, stating “I am incredibly grateful to the cast and especially to my stage manager [Sam Tempkin ‘25] who always provided thoughtful logistical questions and contributed so heavily to the process.”

A Good Christmas” was followed by Lady Gregory’s “Spreading the News,” directed by Samuel Roter ‘25. This play depicts an Irish town that is thrown into turmoil after an eyewitness account gets repeated and warped until the original act, returning a hayfork, becomes the murder of its intended recipient. The actors were very committed to using Irish accents and did so throughout the play. The audience could often be heard giggling, especially when characters dramatically made the sign of the cross at news of scandal or apples were thrown in self-defense from a supposed “murderer.” Essentially a game of telephone gone horribly awry, the play was well received by the audience and garnered some of the most intense laughter of the night.

The next play in the set was “Just a Stage He’s Going Through,written by Pat Cook and directed by Elaine Landry ‘24 and Julianne Lucas ‘24. The play follows the main character, Dwight, as he navigates through a world that appears to him as a stage yet to all the other roles as everyday life. Dwight often addressed the audience, as he could “see” them due to his increased awareness. This awareness also yielded lots of chuckles when Dwight realized he was in “a play in the… basement of a student union?” Directors Landry and Lucas describe the play as both comedic and existential. This impacted their process, which Landry and Lucas elaborated on in their joint statement, “It was a comedy, so we got to be silly and just let our most absurd impulses take control. It was also super existential, though, so we approached rehearsals by doing lengthy tablework with the actors to understand the text as best as we possibly could. This really helped when it came to making sure all of the jokes landed. Once we could come to a consensus on why it was funny, the actors could play with what delivery worked best.” 

Tyler Motlasz ‘26, Dwight in “Just a Stage He’s Going Through,” recounts their Red Doors experience as “a great way to help support your friends and other students in their first experiences of directing or acting. It’s a learning process the entire way through, but it is still so much fun.” Landry, who aims to be a high school theater teacher, exemplifies the opportunities the festival provides, stating “This was my first time directing anything at all. Coming into this process with absolutely no experience was daunting, but being able to navigate it with somebody who has that experience and is one of my favorite people was reassuring and helped me step outside my comfort zone. I ended up really enjoying the process and learned so much about another facet of the theatre world. I’m excited to use that knowledge going forward!” 

The fifth play of the night was “Lord Byron’s Love Letter, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Natalie McElhinny ‘25. Within the play, a Matron traveler, in New Orleans for the Mardi Gras parade, wanders into a house that advertises owning one of Lord Byron’s love letters. She is met with a Spinster and an Old Woman, the latter who will not show her face to the visitors and hides behind a curtain. Throughout the play, the Spinster, by the name of Ariadne, reads the diary of her grandmother, who was the object of Lord Byron’s affection, and shows a letter from Lord Byron to the Matron and her husband. Ariadne’s actions are dictated by the Old Woman behind the curtain, who is suggested to be her grandmother. The play ends with the Matron and Husband leaving for the parade without paying for viewing the letter. The letter then drops on the floor, to which the Old Woman laments, requesting Ariadne “pick up her letter.” 

“Lord Byron’s Love Letter” was followed by “A Marriage Proposal,” written by Anton Chekhov and directed by Ellie McKissick ‘26. As the title suggests, this play follows a young man who comes to propose to his neighbor’s daughter; however, he keeps entering arguments with the two, whether it be about ownership of land or whose dog is a better hunting companion. At the climax of the play, the young man grows ill and is feared to be dead. Alas, he is roused and, in his disoriented state, made to believe he already proposed and that Natalya, the neighbors daughter, agreed. The play ends with the two holding hands as they descend once more into an argument, giving the audience a glimpse of what their marriage life will look like. 

This take on Chekhov was heavily influenced by the exploration of gender, which McKissick describes in stating, “When it came to casting, I knew I wanted to work with a group of non-male actors. I’m deeply interested in how patriarchy exists onstage, especially when the bodies performing aren’t male. While very funny, ‘A Marriage Proposal’ is a play riddled with patriarchy. Natalya, played by Natalie McElhinny ‘25, has a line referencing the proposal that Ivan, played by Iris Jordan ‘26, makes, ‘All Papa said was: ‘Go inside there’s a merchant come to collect his goods.’ [This] made me cringe every single rehearsal because of how messed up it is. With a deeply patriarchal play like this, it was really fun to play with gender and to see what happened. That was something I reassured the cast about, I wasn’t asking them to pretend to exist in bodies that they didn’t have.”

The final play of the night was “Murmurs, written by Scott C Sickles and directed by Dominick Borges ‘27. The play follows the characters Jason and Les, who are in Jason’s room under the guise of watching a baseball game. As the play continues, it is revealed that Les is not knowledgeable about baseball and that Jason invited him over despite knowing this. Not only did the play tug on the heartstrings, as Jason and Les both opened up about past experiences with relationships, but it also made you laugh. One specific instance of this was when the National Anthem came on and Jason said, “God, I love that song,” which aroused chuckles from the audience. Director Borges commented on the experience, stating, “The process for ‘Murmurs’ went by so fast but I’m so glad we took the time we had to carefully craft Jason and Les’ story into a show that I’m extremely proud of. This show will always have a special place in my heart because I find so much gratification in telling queer stories, and I’m extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to tell this one with such great people.”

Audience members were also eager to share their perspectives on the festival. Daniella Zalot ‘27 stated, “All of the performances were well put together- each one was unique and had something new to offer. It was a great time!” Maddie Davidson ‘25 added to this, sharing, “I think it’s empowering to hear and watch student-driven art… more things should be organized and carried out by students in general. There’s a lot of creative brilliance here that we are tapping into, and these are the moments where I see it happening and it’s awesome and beautiful and exciting!” 

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