Review: Willamette 24 Hour Theatre
On March 13, in the smaller black box of Putnam Theater, a full audience was warned that the following programming was to include (among other things), “satanic themes, roofies…gunshots and fake blood.” The audience whooped merrily in response. All were gathered there to watch the “24 Hour Theatre” Festival run by, written by, directed by, and acted in by their fellow Willamette students. On March 12, the playwrights had been presented with actors already dressed in costumes, given the requirement of including a ‘plant’, and from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. they were able to write an original script. On March 13, they met again at 8 a.m. and rehearsed until 5:30 p.m. when they ran through the technical elements of the short plays (Blaze Newman handled the lights and Devon Patterson was 'run crew'). And then at 8 p.m. it was show time.
The first play, A Wild Feminist written by Savannah Stark and directed by Brady McDevitt, opened with a muscle-tee clad figure, their shirt printed with the words ‘wild feminist.’ The hero (played by Mikey Alongi) stands atop a black box and gives a speech about their dedication to their cause as the superhero ‘Feminist Fellow’ whilst a beleagured assistant, Janice (played by Danny Davis) takes notes. The one-act proceeds to trace their troubles in getting calls on their tip line (“You’re being robbed? By a MAN?!”), and getting to the crime scenes before “a prepubescent arachnid” and others that don’t have to deal with the troubles of being a “lower budget hero.” To work in the plant, the titular hero almost gets got by Poison Ivy (played by the director) who is thwarted by a plant being thrown at her. The play closes with a mirror of how it ended, this time with the hero and their assistant standing atop stage furniture, blanket capes tied around their necks, and the spark of social justice in their eyes. The whole endeavor is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek about savior complexes, but still sympathetic to those with good intentions. It was exactly the kind of idea a one-act is good for, as any kind of full-length piece would have overplayed the concept.
The second play, Damn Good Party - A murder mystery? written by Elise Fashimpaur and directed by Olle Wurtzel opens with two actors (Ella Stringer and Grace Kline) in cocktail dresses in awkward silence. The first says: “Other than that I thought it was a great party!” To which the other responds, “Someone died!” It soon develops however that neither actually knows who that body in the trunk is, though they comment that he “kinda looks like a Chad” and is referred to as such thereafter. The stresses of planning a party meet its match in the stresses of covering up and solving a murder. The two try to retrace their steps, unsure if they actually threw a party and if the ominously lit plant in the middle of the room actually was a housewarming gift or if they’ve had it all along. As their memories unravel, they become self-aware that there is an audience watching them, and, as they look in horror at the scripts in their hands, that they are mere players. They decide that to end the play they must solve the murder, but this also leads to a nose-goes over which of them is the murderer, and an existential crisis that when the play resolves they will cease to exist. Eventually, they sit and “wait it out” until the lights go down and the story ends. It leads one to wonder if the author had that arc in mind all along or if they simply grew bored halfway through writing and decided to go meta, but either way it’s thoroughly entertaining. Both of the actors were clearly enthusiastic in their roles, and the chaotic, meta nature of the script lent itself to any fumbles or stumbles they encountered.
Whereas the first two were fairly lighthearted, the third piece Delenda Est written by David Flanagan and directed by Izzy Levine, was a more dramatic piece with some comedic elements. The audience is introduced to an undefined war, as tense characters speak back and forth regarding evacuations, civilian casualties and the Geneva Accords. While all the actors are masked, the fast-paced dialogue in Delenda Est makes a particularly difficult task for its two actors. The central character (played by CJ Bradford), has a back and forth with one of the three characters played by Elise Fashimpaur, in which they argue about what is an acceptable action, and by extension what an acceptable number of civilian casualties are. The soldier played by Bradford goes on to interrogate a member of the opposing side, leading to an intense back and forth regarding ideology, identity and the weaknesses of action or inaction. It culminates in the soldier shooting the prisoner of war (POW) point blank. Despite having previously argued for a move that would kill thousands of civilians, the soldier seems near catatonic with the guilt of killing the POW. They’re court martialed and given a fast talking attorney (played again by Fashimpaur) whose dialogue brings things into the more comedic realm: “As your legal counsel, I’m required to tell you you look like shit.” In the end, other intelligence that the soldier gained is considered enough to make up for the loss of information from the killed POW, and they get off with a ‘first and final warning.’ However, the soldier seems far more disturbed by that than relieved. Through no fault of the script or the execution, the piece does lose the audience a few times throughout. Comedy is a much safer crowd pleaser for a short and snappy one-act play, and it’s harder to build drama and nuance. Any fumbles from lack of rehearsal also blend more gracefully into a comedic framing. Delenda Est was still interesting, with good dialogue and good acting, but this project did not seem like the ideal vehicle for the story being told.
Next was A&H Paranormal written by Anna Burns and directed by Sophia Leonard. A buddy cop paranormal investigation, it’s funny both to the skeptic and the believer. Early on it is revealed that the two investigators are a vampire (played by Ives) and a demon (played by Kendall Morrow), and hijinks ensue. Invited in by a little old lady because she claims she has a demon in her house, the demon investigator says “well now she has two.” After attempting to use an EMF reader and a spirit box, they eventually decide to do a seance. When the demon says that they have to hold hands across the table for it, the vampire worries it will make things weird, to which the demon quips, “it’s only weird if you make it weird.” Eventually, they resolve things not with holy water or exorcisms, but by the demon investigator pulling rank on the infesting demon. Throughout A&H Paranormal are quips about the difficulties of supernatural life and simmering romantic tension between the demon and the vampire. The demon gives the newly turned vampire a pep talk, the vampire gives them a hug, and the vampire also drops trow to reveal a pair of booty shorts saying ‘BITE ME’ in gothic print across their posterior. It was incredibly fun, seemingly as much for the actors as it was for the audience, and begs for its own television show that becomes stale once the two investigators actually resolve their tension.
Last in the line up (though not in our hearts) was Killer Cowboy written by Brooke Cox and directed by Grace Goodyear. With a jaunty country tune playing, Cliff the Cowboy (played by Anya Jones) danced around on stage in cowboy boots and hat, with a leather jacket and a bandana around their neck, and a Patrick Bateman shirt. There was a great deal of hip swinging to many audience cheers. A story then unfolds in which the cowboy is revealed to be a bartender, and the only other person in the bar is ‘Jen,’ (played by Tori Purpura) an unfortunate soul seemingly ghosted by their friends. The cowboy offers them an alcoholic drink but when they turn out to be under 21 gives them water instead… though the water is laced with (as the cowboy pronounced to more audience hollering) “DRUGS!” It’s then revealed that the bar, the Killer Cowboy, is in fact a front or recruiting mechanism for a satanic cult. The cowboy dances around again as the drugged person runs around attempting to escape, and the audience claps along. While Jen runs around trying to escape and eventually seems to evade the clutches of the cult, the audience is fairly smoothly inducted. Some lights come up and the cowboy calls upon all to stand and repeat back, “My Satan is an awesome Satan. He reigns down below with sex, debauchery and lies.” The audience, myself included, dutifully repeated and subsequently received praise for “spreading the good word of the big man down below.” All were encouraged to join the cult’s mailing list. Despite the eternal damnation, it was thoroughly enjoyable and did achieve a sense of community amongst the audience. Maybe the real demons were the friends we made along the way.
The spontaneous and unpolished aspects of the plays were in many ways their greatest strength. The scripts clutched in the actor’s hands and the knowledge that this was all thrown together in a weekend made it feel like the suspension of disbelief wasn’t even necessary. It was unpretentious and unpredictable, and embraced the ephemeral nature of theater wholeheartedly in its concept. My main opinion to come from this project was that I want more. While there probably won’t be another 24 hour play festival this semester, there will be other things in the same spirit: oddball, low budget, student-run, passion projects. Even for those that don’t partake in putting them together, they are definitely worth supporting.