Courtesy of Stratton McCrady
Courtesy of Stratton McCrady

Student productions lighten the black box

February 15, 2017

When presented with an empty and barren black box, some fail to see beyond the potential it holds. Some may look at it merely as a container to store things, others may not even give it a second glance. On the other hand, some may look at it like a blank canvas anxiously awaiting a new masterpiece to be displayed. At the Suffolk University’s Sullivan Theater, members of the theater department pounced on the opportunity to create their own masterpieces as part of Spring Showcase.

In a medley of four short productions, Suffolk students were able to transform one single black box into four completely different times, places and stories.

Kicking off the evening was “The Lucid,” written and directed by junior theater major Matt Bittner. The short play follows a young man named Ray and the lofty concept of the afterlife; Bittner provides the audience with a potential scenario in which one might enter post-mortem. In this scenario, Ray, played by junior theater major Jack Aschenbach, has found himself seated interview-style in front of a woman seated at a desk named Dana, played by sophomore theater major Helen Brind’Amour. She politely asks Ray to answer a series of questions ranging from inquiring about his favorite color and to pick two options out of a list containing the words, “mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird, fish.” Based on the answers Ray gives, the woman at the desk proceeds to give him one last decision to make– he must decide between a red panda and a squirrel. To this, he repeatedly questions where he is and why he is being subjected to such intense questioning. After an aggressive shouting match, Dana reveals to Ray that he has died in a car crash and is now seated in Reincarnation Services. These two options that Dana presented to Ray are what he must choose between to be reincarnated as, based on the answers that he provided in his initial questionnaire.

Courtesy of Stratton McCrady

In a hysterical display of confusion and the ultimate acceptance of his death, Ray and Dana became closer after Dana realized that Ray is able to comprehend everything that is happening to him because in his life he was able to dream lucidly, or have control of his dreams. The pair discuss life and what is worth living for while Ray decides that it would be better for him to start a new life as an animal with an entirely new memory, than to just cease to exist with no memory of his past life.

Composed almost entirely under just two overhead lights, this production was done in what felt like a hazy dream-like trance. With the rise and fall of the action on stage, it was easy to get lost in the emotions that were hurled into the open space regarding love and loss. In a tumultuous and gripping scene, Bittner encapsulates the emotion that comes with losing a life and accepting death in one swift motion.

After a quick scene change, the black box theater is completely stripped of Bittner’s play and re-set for “Something Went Wrong with the Mystery Machine,” written by senior theater major Ariana Messana and directed by senior theater major Jessica Hickey.

As a very loose jab at the infamous Scooby Doo and gang ensemble, this production follows alternate versions of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby in what appears to be a locked house with no obvious way out.

The new gang is comprised of Rick, played by freshman theater major Kyle Salvaggio, Violet, played by sophomore undeclared major Allison Blackburn, Louise, played by freshman theater Mickey Rodgers, Casey, played by junior politics, philosophy and economics major DJ Fabrizio and Sammy played by junior theater major Jacob Marino.

The gang seems to have no prior relationship with each other but quickly discover that they must stick together in order to survive an ever present “monster,” and to successfully escape the house they are trapped in. True to franchise fashion, there is a montage of the members running around terrified to ironically upbeat music through doors and crossing paths, ending up in a big collision that results in half of the gang being reunited despite this unnamed but ever-present doom.

In a dramatic plot twist, some members turn against each other in the heat of the moment and right at the peak of the climax, a blackout is cued and gunshots ring out. Scooby Doo, where are you?

In yet another quick scene change, the black box is stripped once again and the stagehands zoom out from behind the curtains only to redress the entire stage for the third production of the evening, “~~~***2009***~~~,” written by Claire Boyle, who recently unenrolled at Suffolk, and Director Kevin J.P. Hanley who is a senior theater major.

From stage left, a blonde girl wheels onto the stage on a razor scooter, does a quick jump, and continues to ride off stage where the sound of a car crash plays over the speakers.

Then a cut to Emily, played by freshman theater major Courtney Bouchard who delivers an sassy and attitudinal soliloquy describing her fate as an early teen who was struck by a car and was announced comatose in 2009, only to wake up eight years later as a grown woman with several questions. In her speech, which she delivered in a wheelchair and hospital gown, Emily conveys how upset she is that she missed out on such important and formative years, drawing attention to the convivial conventions of the early 2000s. She alludes to once-famous Taco Bell meals and the T-Mobile phone the “Sidekick” being such important concepts in her young life, only to be dismayed that these items no longer exist.

Thrilled to have her friend awake and back in the game, her lifelong best friend Michelle, senior public relations major Erica Lundin, has counted the seconds waiting for Emily to wake up from her coma only to fill her in on everything that she has been doing since her friend almost died in a car crash. The two girls catch up and perform a quick rendition of Lady Gaga’s classic hit “Bad Romance,” after a brief discussion on whether or not Emily should go on a date with the doctor that had been caring for her for the last eight years.

A hilarious and cringeworthy trip down memory lane, “~~~***2009***~~~,” had audience members feeling nostalgic and reminiscing on the last eight years of their own lives.

Courtesy of Stratton McCardy

Finally, in one last strip down, the Sullivan black box theater was transformed again, this time to almost nothing. In the final performance of the night, “900 Mouths Versus The Black Box,” written by Suffolk alum Theo Goodell and adapted and directed by junior english and theater double major Aira Lynn Sergany, the entire cast and crew of the showcase came together to create a hodge-podge of stimuli. Different members screeched incoherent ramblings while others skipped around the stage in a faded trance. The ensemble invited members of the audience to stand in the thick of it all and experience this self-described, “parade of fragments.”

It was just that. Designed to capture all that happens inside a black box, “900 Mouths,” paints the perfect picture of an ideal black box theater. It changes on a whim and transports audiences to new worlds, new dimensions and new ideas.
Forever a symbol of creativity and imagination, the black box theater is a beacon to all those who seek to create and push the walls of the box as far as they’ll go. Suffolk University’s Spring Showcase was a wonder-filled, thought-provoking event that is just the beginning for those who still seek the thrill of creation.

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