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Festival shows one act can rule them all
A musical number set on a flaming oil rig and a sober reflection on the Egyptian revolution, united on the same stage on the same evening? That’s this year’s Donn B. Murphy One Acts Festival. The festival’s two productions, Peaches and Freon and #Courage, are an unusual combination, but together they show off the strength of original student work at Georgetown.
Witnessing a contest for lyric writing overrun by awful submissions prompted Ryan Dull (COL ’12) and Michael Franch (SFS ’12) to write the musical Peaches and Freon. A seemingly nonsensical production about two awful playwrights, Peaches makes comedy out of the unfortunate reality that “sometimes musical theater isn’t written by the masters of the craft,” Dull said. “If the play is successful, then it demonstrates that there’s value in the production of bad art, so it can be comfortably bad.”
The musical takes place in the fictional Old Freon Factory Theatre—luckily cleared by the EPA after a benzene spill—where the awful playwrights critique their most infamous musical numbers for a crowd of narcoleptics. Though their intended audience begins to fall asleep, the musical number “German Men Screaming,” which features a lederhosen-clad singer alongside actors presumably portraying Einstein and Hitler, certainly wakes the crowd up.
Peaches’s humor stems not only from its ridiculousness, but also from a keen mockery of theater and popular culture, equally apt to reference Goddard films as Doctor Who. “Sometimes our love is like a star, hot and dying/ Sometimes our love is like Michael Bay—not even trying,” goes one song.
Attempting to emulate Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the two playwrights highlight another of Macbeth’s underdeveloped characters—the Birnam forest—in a musical number called “Stationary Trees.” For a plotline so absurd andcharacters so terrible at their jobs, the music in Peaches defies the farce.
“The music itself is complex—it’s much better than music you would expect for a show about bad music,” Franch said. “Why choose between enjoying a show and its music and laughing at the actors?”
The second production, #Courage, a play about the Arab Spring, provides a sober contrast. Producer Liz Robbins (MSB ’14) said she hopes audiences “experience the full spectrum of theater” through Mask and Bauble’s festival, and the two productions certainly allow for such an experience.
Written and directed by Swedian Lie (COL ’13), #Courage explores the ambiguity of the role of social networks in the Middle Eastern and North African revolutions. It challenges the academic debate surrounding social media and revolutions by focusing on the youth who were on the ground demonstrating.
Through an integration of technology into the set, with a projector painting tweets and Facebook pictures behind the actors, #Courage forces its audience to see social media as a serious force. Georgetown students read out tweets like “GERMed by a Jesuit #JesusLovesMe,” and are startled by the break in their vapidity when a new tweet comes in: “Choking on tear gas. Can’t breathe #Jan25 #Egypt.”
Gunshots and police brutality paint the reality of the revolutions, while a scene of two academics boxing—based on a series of articles from Foreign Affairs—show how removed the debates over social media have become. If #Courage tells us anything, it’s that Facebook and Twitter are useless without their users.
“As a Georgetown student, politics is never away from you,” said Lie. “A play like this is perfect for the Georgetown community.”
Peaches and Freon and #Courage don’t fit together at first sight, but together they provide a satisfying experience.
“Transitioning between the two productions, the audience hits an emotional left turn,” Dull said. “The two certainly don’t cohere, but they speak to the different aspects of what theater aims to do, what theater can do.”