In Western’s main season line-up of theater, there is one slot per year reserved for student directed shows. Students wishing to fill this slot submit a proposal for a text they want to direct, and, if chosen, get the opportunity to realize their selected play with a design team, cast and technical crew composed entirely of their peers. This weekend, the two plays selected for this student slot will open, supplying a tantalizing slice of theatrical insight into the themes of love, desire, and the quests we go on in pursuit of intimate, real connection.

Quake

Ashley Hollingshead, the director of Melanie Marnich’s play “Quake,” said that in selecting her text she “wanted to do a show with strong female characters.” She said, “’Quake’ is the story of a young woman, Lucy, who is following the curve of the world to find big love.” The play evolves as a series of flashes into the romantic relationships Lucy pursues with different men who all conform to very clear social types, interspersed with dreams, TV visions, and real life encounters with a woman Lucy looks up to for inspiration. This woman is a serial killer who represents unwitting drive, and the ability to march on regardless of what happens in one’s life. Lucy looks to her for an example of how to persist in her pursuit of love despite the many failed relationships in which she finds herself.

There is the jock who takes her on a fantastic bike race only to lose her to her fragile lungs, the intellectual turned bedmate who cheats on her, inspiring in her the question that leads to her departure: why don’t you love me like you used to? There is the burly, squirrel-grilling woodsman whose simplistic warmth and attention first attract, and later repel her. No matter who Lucy dates, she is constantly looking for more, never satisfied with the love she finds.

“The play is very intimate,” said Hollingshead. “It’s a play that, by definition, wants a smaller setting.” In the pursuit of this intimate space, she chose to organize audience seating “in the round.” This means that there is seating on all sides of the stage, instead of just one.

In addition to enclosing the play in an intimate, small setting, choosing to seat the audience in the round follows the theme of curves that runs throughout the play. Lucy is continuously spinning, walking in rounded patterns through space, and gesturing in spherical ways. This is her story, and as every audience member creates an integral part of the circle that creates the space for her story to unfold, you are left with the sense that you are a part of the very tale, woven right into the fabric of the people and experiences Lucy relays.

“There are a lot of non-realistic moments,” said Hollingshead. She has chosen to tackle this aspect of the play by focusing attention on the physical movements and gesture that define each character. Each character has clearly defined movement motifs, which texturize and deepen their personality in both visual and kinesthetic ways.

The set for the play is extremely minimal. Lucy enters into an empty space permeated only by the people she meets and the specific props and set pieces they bring in to augment and define their personal ticks. Minimalism works well for this play- there is nothing extra in the space, so each prop or set piece really pops out, supplying clear information for the audience about the defining characteristics of the particular relationship Lucy is exploring. The minimalist set choices work well to convey the clear, specific traits that define each character, clearly outlining the “types” of men around which the progression of the play revolves.

“My cast is amazing,” said Hollingshead, and indeed the strength of the acting is what makes the show. Many of the actors play multiple roles, shifting seamlessly from one character to another, conveying a huge spectrum of human capability and experience.
“It is about how society tells you a heterosexual relationship should be, and what happens when this is not enough,” said Hollingshead. She is hoping the audience will go with Lucy on her journey. As each scene reveals a new “type” of guy, and each one leaves Lucy seeking more, she hopes people will be able to relate to this exploration of types, and feel its resonance in their own lives. Ultimately it’s about Lucy finding her own self, and Hollingshead hopes the audience will see this. “It is not a play saying that defined types are bad, it’s just saying that types aren’t enough.”

Moe’s Lucky 7

“Moe’s Lucky 7,” the other play fulfilling the student slot, goes back to the root of the male-female relationship, and traces the dynamics of desire, love, and lust to the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Written by Marlene Mayer, and directed by Eva Suter, the play is a captivating story of the way love corrupts and creates, strengthens and destroys, devastates and heals, and ultimately has the power to transform. Suter described her choice to do “Moe’s” by saying, “this play is definitely more than the sum of its parts. There are moments of beauty… and moments of anti-beauty in this thing. It just struck me.”

“Moe’s Lucky 7” marks the second full-length play Suter has directed. When she came to Western, she originally thought she would get into playwriting, but said she has found a home in directing. “Directing has non-negotiable deadlines. One of the reasons I like it is I can’t put it off. I have to be ready. I love the process of creating something like this, and of coming together, creating a bond with other people, and the process of sharing and communicating with the audience.”

Suter spent the first two weeks of the rehearsal process researching and talking with her cast. They researched “the creation, temptation, and expulsion of man, and what Eden was like for various people.” Additionally, they investigated cross-cultural views and representations of snakes, and the politics of labor unions, as these are key elements to the story line. Doing this research helped Suter and her cast “get into the world of the play.”

And what a world it is. The scenes unfold in a bar, owned by a man named Moe. Circling around conversations about labor unions and marriage, the play explores what it means for a human being to open their heart. Through the relationships and conversations of the various characters that enter the bar, the themes of love, lust, corruption, marriage and union are seated on Moe’s barstools, ingested through the beverages that the talented cast consume, and placed artfully in the minds of the audience. Suter said she is “hoping the audience will have a very visceral, emotional response. There is something about the nature of human union that is brought up here. It takes place after the fall, in a world that is falling apart.”

As “Moe’s Lucky 7” is all about unions disintegrating, one might think it would take on a depressing, melancholy form. However, the play proves to be anything but dreary. It is funny and poignant, and the talent of the cast is stunning. The play does not drop you into a depression over the breakdown of unions. “In the end,” as Suter put it, “there is hope.” That hope is clear, well delivered, and inspiring.

“The hard part of being a director is that your job stops opening night,” said Suter. “It’s hard to let it go walk on its own.” But Hollingshead and Suter have given these shows strong legs, and opening night is sure to find them running with the strength and speed of Olympic track stars.

“Quake” will perform November 9, 11, 13, 17, and 19. “Moe’s Lucky 7” will perform November 10, 12, 16, 18, and 20. All the shows are at 7:30 p.m., except the November 13 showing of “Quake,” which is at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $4 at the PAC Box Office. Reserve your tickets now! These shows are selling out fast.