By Katie Monigan
Arts & Life Editor
The best way to describe Shepardfest is a hodgepodge: this weekend’s series of four plays could not have been more varied, almost as if they were not written by the same man.
But they were. Sam Shepard was named the 2010 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters, but was unable to come to campus to accept his award. In his honor, and because of stage director Gary Grant’s passion for his work, this fall’s acting showcase was a diverse series of Shepard’s plays and short stories.
Inside Tustin Theatre’s small performance space are four risers with chairs, enough room for 30-40 people and six circular tables that create a café atmosphere. There were even plates with cheese, crackers, grapes and water on each of the tables.
The first of four plays this weekend, “Just Space,” which according to the program is a dramatization of a short story, was only a few minutes long and had two cast members. In the play, a mother does not understand the daughter now that she has moved away and married. She repeatedly refuses to acknowledge her daughter’s husband as her “husband,” instead calling him her “beau.” While mostly serious, it had a couple one-liners that made the mood less grim. On stage, two screens, one on each side, set the scene: the mother’s was a tidy living room, and the daughter’s was a much messier and basic one. Stephanie Walters ’11 played the daughter while a convincing Emily Singleton ’12 played the mother.
The second play, “Cowboy Mouth,” was much longer, almost too long. Set in a messy apartment, the play features a drunk man and woman who scream, sing and crawl around the stage. The entire play is very intense, with almost no lulls. There are some funny moments, like when they order lobster and a man in a red leather lobster suit delivers it. Just like the first play, though, the comedic breaks are no match for the intensity and sadness of most of the play. Katharina Schmidt ’13 and Eddie Pailet ’11 both delivered impressive performances.
After a much-needed intermission, the tone completely turned in a lighthearted play about a woman who thinks her head is going to explode while she is skiing, a maid learning to swim by practicing on a bed and a man who suffers a 10-year affliction with crabs. The play is bizarre and entertaining, with especially compelling acting by Christina Cody ’12, who played the maid.
The final play in the series was by far the most abstract. It included the entire cast of Shepardfest and was broken into three groups of people: six people in chairs with blankets on their laps who were illuminated one at a time with spotlights, four drummers hiding behind the chairs of the speakers and an entirely-female chorus dressed in dark colors who ran around and danced. They all spoke in a chant-like manner, and eventually ran up into the risers where the audience sat to further extend the atmosphere.
Overall, Shepardfest seemed to be directed at an audience other than the student body. In fact, of the few people in attendance last Sunday night, about five were students, most of them greeting cast member friends when the show was over. It was enjoyable to watch, but nothing special, and seemed more to be a tool for acting growth rather than for viewing pleasure of University students.