Frost Festival of student drama opens tonight

by Paul Graeve | 5/19/94 5:00am

The complexities of relationships between brothers, lovers and newly-met strangers will be explored in three unique, evocative student plays to be performed May 19 to 21 for this year's Eleanor Frost Festival.

"Abel" by Pavol Liska '95, "Nothing Like the Sun" by S.T. Shimi '94 and "Ring Around the Rosey" by Jessica Keyt '95 were all selected as Frost finalists during the winter. As winners, they received funding and support toward full theatrical production. The one-act performances will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday night in the Warner Bentley Theater and will run through Saturday.

Liska, the playwright and director, and Joey Hood '96, a lead actor, both hesitated when asked about the meaning of Liska's play, "Abel." Having spent hundreds of hours this term refining the subtleties of the play's many weighted moments, the two chose their words carefully.

Rather than limit the meaning of "Abel," Liska answered in broad, inclusive terms, revealing a confidence in his team's ability to appreciate and convey his message.

"The play is based on the story of Cain and Abel," he began. "It is about violence, desires, instincts ...." Hood expanded, adding, "It's about relationships, about the basic ties that hold brothers together, no matter what the cirucumstances. It's about control and the very dark sides of human emotions."

Hood's character, Abel, moves only his mouth throughout the play, an unusual limitation which, he said, "has taught me a lot about the subtleties of voice and the power of language. The writing is so concentrated in this play that every word needs special attention."

Shimi also chooses not to limit the meaning of her play to any one phrase. "Part of 'Nothing Like the Sun' is a meditation on the power of memory and the responsibility to remember and/or to bear witness," she explained. "Another part is an exploration of the tension between sexual love and attraction and the principles that one stands for."

"I wrote it for two women because I wanted to give female performers an intense and interesting script to work with, and I also wanted the audience to be challenged by the two women working through an intense relationship on-stage." According to Drama Professor Jim Steffensen, "Nothing Like the Sun" is the first lesbian-themed student play to be performed at Dartmouth.

Yunsian Tai '96, a lead actress, said working on Shimi's play has been "a lot of fun, but has been very challenging. It's about two women in the midst of a revolution who are on opposite sides. Gradually, I've come to empathize with my character. I'm trying to work hard to really get the meaning of this play across to the audience."

Keyt explained her play, "Ring Around the Rosey" in detail. "The heart of the play is about a train-platform meeting of two very lonely people -- a somewhat bitter man who has just lost his father, who is desperately looking for human contact, and a woman who is both a very sexual creature--often using physical intimacy as a substitute for psychological intimacy--and yet is an innocent romantic."

But along with the meaning of the performances, the process of transforming a student-written text into a finished play may have just as much importance for these writers and performers. "I love the festival itself," Keyt said. "I spent hours at Kiewit this winter, creating this vision in my head, and suddenly I see my words take on their own life with the people on stage."

"It certainly has been exciting to see my play come to life in the hands of peers who seem genuinely psyched about its quality," Shimi concurred. "In some ways it's not my play anymore; I've given it up to other people, and that's part of the uniqueness of this opportunity."

Liska also appreciates the value of his experiences with the Frost Festival. "Writing is very personal, and directing is more rational, so there is a conflict there which is difficult to overcome. I've learned a lot about acting, directing and my own writing."

This is the first year the event has been billed as a festival and not a competition. While awards for best actor, actress, and director will be given out, there will be no award given for best play. Those involved feel there is more of a collaborative air in rehearsal as a result.

For example, Mark Kennedy '94, the sound designer for "Abel" feels the technical crews have benefitted from a more unified effort than in previous years. "We work together with the other sound and lighting designers as we need to get a common light plot and speaker placement."

Festival Director Arthur Holmberg has emphasized the Frosts this year by allotting two extra weeks for rehearsal and by welcoming a strong collaboration with Drama Professor Michael Van Dyke and Visiting Assistant Professor of Drama Fred Kolo, who have provided technical and dramatic advice.

As a result, there may be no better time than this weekend to check out the dramatic talent of Dartmouth students.

Tickets for the Frost Festival cost $1.50 for students and are available at the Hopkins Center Box Office.