By LAYANN BASILEH
UHS celebrated its 20th annual Festival of the Absurd on March 1 and 2 in the Big Theater during office hours. The festival showcased original absurdist plays written by AP Literature and Composition students honoring absurdist literature, which is known for its characteristics of irrationality, lack of structure and satire. This year’s festival featured eight plays selected by AP Lit teachers Mr. Martin Stibolt (English Dept.), Ms. Amber Linehan (English Dept.) and Ms. Susanne Fitzpatrick (English Dept.) out of the 125 entries.
The festival kicked off with Cali Bacino’s (Sr.) play Passing Time. The play featured Ellena Eshraghi (Jr.) and Corinne Alsop (Sr.) trying to find out how to make “Time,” played by Dylan Cecot (Sr.), go by faster. They try “passing Time,” but he doesn’t seem to move any quicker. Eventually in one last attempt, Alsop threatens to “kill Time,” sending a terrified Cecot scurrying off the stage. This was one of the plays I enjoyed the most. Bacino’s use of absurdism was spectacular, and I liked how the plot was a little reminiscent to other absurdist works that the AP Lit classes studied. Bacino said, “Having free reign to write and produce my absurdist play was without a doubt the best assignment that I’ve ever been given. The full creative freedom was definitely a change of pace, and it really gave me the opportunity to make something that was everything I wanted it to be.”
The show then quickly proceeded to my personally favorite play, Vani Dewan (Sr.), Kerri Pelekoudas (Sr.) and Alsop’s Apollo 29.5. Alsop made a second appearance on the stage, this time as Diana, a student whose teacher and classmates mysteriously can’t see her. As the weeks roll by, the class becomes able to see her little by little. The audience later learns, thanks to a cameo by Francisco Lazo (Sr.), that Diana’s problems with visibility were due to her being the moon. I loved the silliness of the story and the cleverness the writers employed by using the phases of the moon and the name of the goddess Diana, who was historically represented by the moon.
Next up was Accepted by Aneesah Akbar (Sr.), Bethany Huang (Sr.) and Erin Kim (Sr.), which revolved around the college interview of Nelson Lo (Sr.) conducted by Sophie Lawrence (Sr.). Lawrence asks Lo a series of odd and seemingly trivial questions, while a couple, played by Alsop and Darrius Estigoy (Sr.) argue. Although the play was humorous, I was little confused over whether the situations in plot were meant to be purely comical or hold a deeper message. The last play of the first half of the festival was Masquerade by Josie Bachman (Sr.), Janine Bryant (Sr.) and Gentil Nguyen (Sr.). Bachman starred in the play, the audience observing her as she greeted her friends, her boyfriend and her family, donning a different mask before speaking with each group. To me, Masquerade was by far the most meaningful and beautifully done of any of the plays. However, I couldn’t help but feel that inserting a message into an absurdist play defeated the concept of absurdism, which is defined by its lack substance.
The second day of the festival was launched with an opener by the emcees Vanessa Yang (Sr.), Minsoo Kim (Sr.), Nadine Ben Romdhane (Sr.), Mahek Logantha (Sr.), Dhruv Upadhyay (Sr.) and Brett Miller (Sr.) who parodied Regal Cinemas rollercoaster “ride” that previews before the films start. Soon after, the cast of Game Over! by Youngmoo Ki (Sr.) and Jinny Hwang (Sr.) took the stage. Kevin Kim (Sr.) played the main role as a character reminiscent of Mario in a video game. As he explores through his pixelated world, he wonders if there is any way for him become something other than a “hero.” Game Over! was another play that I felt really managed to capture the essence of absurdism, as it explored themes of existence and individuality, yet was delivered in a wrapping of video game tropes and a silly soundtrack.
The next performance, A Poorly Written Play by Maia DiTolla (Sr.), opened with cardboard signs with the words “tree,” “sandbox” and “4th wall” written on them placed onstage. On the other side of the “4th wall,” Aurnov Chattopadhyay (Sr.) narrated the story of Kevin and Marvin, played by Ohshue Gatanaga (Sr.) and Vignesh Iyer (Sr.), respectively. Mackenzie Zambo (Sr.) frequently interrupted the story to criticize the narrator. This was a very fun play; its break of the fourth wall was intriguing and very well done. A Toast to Freedom by Ariana Apostol (Sr.), Angela Dong (Sr.) and Diana Zhang (Sr.) followed. The play featured Apostol and Dewan as inmates being watched over by a prison guard played by Albert Jia (Sr.). I toasted to the comedy, confusion and absurdity intermixed in this amusing performance.
The very last play of the festival was I Met God, She’s Black by Laura Yang (Sr.), Anneke Gustafson (Sr.), Sandeep Kambhampati (Sr.) and Mackenzie Zambo (Sr.). Max Cohen (Jr.) begins the play by praying to God before bed. Lazo and TK Scott (Sr.), both claiming to be God, attempt to answer his prayers as they simultaneously argue over which one of them is really God. While being entertained by this performance (Scott and Lazo make a hilarious duo), I once again was conflicted by the mixing of commentary and chaos. Scott commented on her experience, saying, “Although it was frantic and hard at times to organize rehearsals, it was an extremely riveting experience to get to have fun with a piece that one of your very own peers created.”
I was incredibly impressed with the quality of each one of the plays. All of them were cleverly written and managed to skillfully incorporate several key themes of absurdism into their stories. The audience was in awe over the performances as well and erupted in applause after every act. Sophia Lou (Sr.), an audience member, said, “What I found cool about the Festival of the Absurd is that students didn’t need to meet a ton of prerequisites to share their creative work with a live audience. Most of the playwrights had never written a play before, and many of the actors on stage had never performed before. It really is awesome to see your peers and friends share their creative work in a formal setting.”