Dark themes were explored by the student playwrights in Under the Lights, a series of 10-minute original plays. There was the end of the world, the Grim Reaper, bank robbers. It kinda makes you wonder about this generations' state of mind. Are these dark themes the result of living through a recession and anticipating the doom of student loan debt?
Withdrawal, written by Edward Wallace Precht, is a clever story of dueling novice bank robbers that's full of plot twists and laugh-out-loud quips. "No one expects a reading robber!" It's a strong opener. Two unsuspecting men stand in line at a bank, each with their own tale of woe, in a desperate attempt for quick cash, or so we think.
Next up is Ladies Most Deject by Steven Moskos, which includes two separate performances occurring simultaneously. If it sounds confusing, it is. Profiling the stories of women "broken by love," one couple is from the past and one from the present, yet both speak over one another, making it hard to focus. The format is innovative but unsuccessful, reminding me of twitter feeds at the bottom of CNN that add to the noise and keep you from knowing where to look.
Date with Death by Edward Wallace Precht is refreshingly funny. The Grim Reaper arrives at a restaurant to collect a young woman who is about to die from choking on her food, and she begins to (wink, wink) flirt with death.
Opening night's audience was filled with students who were so enthusiastic in their appreciation that they were on the verge of being annoying. By the second half, the mood had mellowed, and smooth transitions between the plays maintained the audience's attention.
The thread of despair reappears in How Far We've Come by Trevor Catalano. The end of the world is broadcast by a TV reporter (an actor standing on a table), while a married couple screams at one another about the meaning of life. "What's my life going to mean when I'm gone?" Robert yells at his wife while he drinks another beer. "I fucked up!" The play concludes with a snippet from Everybody Loves Raymond as the couple cuddles in front of the TV. Full of drama and passion, it's not the way I'd like to imagine spending the last few moments of my life.
Steven Moskos makes up for the confusion of Ladies Most Deject in his play, You Don't Know Dickensgood. With strong performances by David Beckett and Baylor Shull, this 1950s detective story is reminiscent of Prairie Home Companion's Guy Noir. Sexy, funny, and lighthearted, this play is pure fun.
Out of six playwrights, only one, Cara Beth Heath, is a woman. Her plays Grip and Bullet focus on the trappings of anxiety and fear. Bullet tells the story of two brothers on the eve of a wedding. The acting is especially strong and as the two men play XBox, their relationship is believable, even if the circumstances seem less so.
The great thing about short-attention-span theater is that if you don't like one play, you only have to wait 10 minutes for the next. Under the Lights is up against tough competition, but it's always inspiring to watch and support the next generation of playwrights and actors.