The Fish Project Play Festival: week one review series

Terminating… or Sonnet LXXV, or ‘Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence; A review by Ellen Powers

One of the plays performed in the first weekend of Muhlenberg’s Fish Project Play Festival was renowned playwright Tony Kushner’s one-act work, ​Terminating… or Sonnet LXXV, or ‘Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein,’ or Ambivalence​. Just like the other plays in the festival, ​Ambivalence​, as the play is commonly referred to, was directed, designed, and performed by Muhlenberg students.

Ambivalence​ was superbly directed by Clarissa Shirley ’22, who had the difficult challenge of navigating four actors in different spaces, all in a pre-recorded performance. The performance began with a surreal video montage featuring Castelle Eskin ’22 in the role of Dymphna. The montage had an almost psychedelic feel to it, and it did a fantastic job of getting the audience into the unique world of the play.

A challenge of the play was definitely the complex terms and ideas that Esther and Hendryk discuss frequently. Fortunately, the actors playing the roles, Tessa Forster ’23 and Charlie Merriman ’23, had a great grasp on the script and were able to keep the often-surreal play grounded. There were a few instances in which the characters’ discussion started to get confusing, but the pre-show dramaturgy presentation put together by the production dramaturg, Leah Trunsky ’23, were effective in providing the audience with the context they needed.

One particularly excellent element of the production was the makeup design by Celeste Samson ’22. Samson also served as the production’s assistant director and costume designer. Her makeup design for Hendryk was a perfect way to emphasize his anxious mental state, with bags under his eyes and lines on his face. Equally great was Samson’s makeup design for the role of Billygoat, played by Luke Poleway ’22. Billygoat is Hendryk’s lover who hovers around the conversation between Hendryk and Esther, and Samson’s makeup design for the character did an excellent job of reflecting Billygoat’s ghost-like presence and energy.

Another standout element of the production was Poleway’s performance as Billygoat. The role requires a commanding presence and lots of energy, and Poleway’s physicality and vocal inflections did a perfect job of embodying the role.

Ambivalence​ by Tony Kushner is a complex and complicated play, but the cast and crew of the Fish Project Play Festival production did a terrific job in putting together a production that was accessible and entertaining for the audience, even over Zoom.

Rules for Coming Out When You’re in the Driver’s Seat of Your Mom’s Camry; A review by Johnny Veglia

Rules for Coming Out When You’re in the Driver’s Seat of Your Mom’s Camry​ by Jessica Marie Fisher was a funny, charming, and powerful piece captured perfectly online thanks to the direction of Elizabeth Witek. Rules for Coming Out focuses on Liam, Desmond Reifsnyder ‘22, coming out to his best friend Lauren, Amanda Berkson ‘23. 

Liam has a different kind of crush and he doesn’t know how to explain his emotions or sexuality, but Lauren helps him during this process and to be comfortable with who he is. Fisher’s piece covers a multitude of topics: homophobia, closeted family members, harmful and complex relationships, discovering if one is gay or bisexual, and other themes. One of my favorite moments in the play was Liam discussing the beauties and dangers of coming out of the closet. Liam describes how he is warm being stuck inside thanks to the fur coats and other clothes, but he can enter Narnia if he leaves the closet and reveals his sexuality. Narnia is full of both beauty and danger, as Liam highlights in his monologue. Reifsnyder does a wonderful job of making the dialogue resonate with the audience and he makes Liam extremely charismatic. 

Additionally, Berkson portrays the role of Lauren with a warm presence by serving as a caring figure who is understanding and patient. Witek also added a powerful opening for the show by reminding the audience of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case. Since the show was pre-recorded, the piece could behave differently than a normal Zoom call. The opening text and layout was reminiscent of a notebook and it showed various pictures of the cast and crew from 2020 and 2015. It was a cute and important way to reflect on this major win for the LGBTQ+ community. Plus, the ending was fun and liberating as members of the show danced to “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, sung by Zach Montenegro ‘23, while holding signs with “Love is Love” and other heartwarming messages. Overall,​ this production was captured beautifully by Lizzie Witek in her directorial debut. Reifsnyder’s Liam and Berkson’s Lauren are able to carry the show with humor and acceptance as they showcased the warmth and love needed during these dark times.

GPS: An Auto-Erotic Comedy; A review by Danny Milkis 

GPS: An Auto-Erotic Comedy, a play by Bruce Kane, addressed the fear of impending doom by the clutches of artificial intelligence, and added a dash of timely comedy. Directed by Joey Marcacci ‘23, this digital production was the very first to premiere at the Fish Project Play Festival, and had a total duration of around twenty minutes. 

From the first fade-in, it was clear that an abundance of time, energy and careful consideration was placed in the visual aspects of the piece. More specifically, Scenic Designer Sophia Pettine ‘23 created an arcade-esque aesthetic using vibrant greens, blues, and reds, while also maintaining a dark, imposing atmosphere through background lighting. There was additional emphasis on technology throughout the design landscape of the play, a visual artistry component which was also apparent from the very beginning. The team’s use of an external projector to display pre-recorded imagery, a futuristic-looking automotive interior and carefully timed theatrical transitions played key components in blurring the lines betweenan imposing dystopian warning and a light-hearted commentary on the role of modern technological advancements.

This production featured a wonderfully talented cast, whose interpretation of the roles and script were equally heartwarming and utterly terrifying. Jake Watzman ‘22, who played the unknowing victim, Dave, had a fascinating and driving sense of dramatic irony. This understanding allowed for moments of audience realization, and was played off well by his counterpart, Christina Freeman ‘22, who voiced the car’s operating system, ‘Hallie’. Freeman gave Hallie a highly effective balance between a humorous, seductive personality, and an inversely aggressive side whenever Dave didn’t cooperate in the way that she intended. The two were joined by Sandy McInerney ‘23, who added to the already tense struggle between man and machine by testing Hallie’s reaction to Dave’s relationship with a human woman, which expectedly pushed the aggression to its limits.

All in all, this was an extremely entertaining and thought-provoking entry in this year’s Fish Project Play Festival, and its execution on opening night was something that the cast and crew should be very proud of.

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