One-act plays to debut Monday

Matthew Wilson

Theater has changed over the years. It’s grown from small, nomadic groups of performers traveling from town to town to sold-out shows. “UA Writes: Student-Written One Acts” revisits this smaller, more intimate relationship between the performers and the audience.

“UA Writes,” a show put on by the University of Alabama department of theatre, will debut two student-written one-act plays Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Allen Bales Theatre in Rowand-Johnson Hall.

“It’s kind of how theater used to be,” actress Lacy Claire Whitten said. “There wouldn’t be a conventional stage, and audiences would be able to see the actors putting on makeup, getting into character. There’s not as many boundaries. The audience is really involved.”

Whitten, a sophomore majoring in theatre, and Keeley McMurray, a freshman majoring in theatre and English, are performing in the plays “Meet The Bradleys” and “Hills Like White Elephants.”

Set in 1920s Spain, the Ernest Hemingway adaptation “Hills Like White Elephants,” written by University graduate John Nara, follows a conversation between Girl (played by McMurray) and another character, Man, who tries to convince her to get an abortion. McMurray said playing the part has been challenging yet rewarding.

“It’s basically the point of no return in their relationship,” she said. “It’s very much built on subtext – not necessarily what is said but what is meant.”

While the play is a straight adaptation, McMurray said Nara and director Raines Carr put their own ideas into the play. One of the contemporary twists added to the story is making the couple interracial.

“That adds another interesting dynamic to it,” McMurray said. “We’ve chosen not to acknowledge that in the script – to present it as a normal couple having a conversation. If you’re thinking in a ’20s mindset, lynching is revived in the ’20s. My character getting pregnant by him would be very taboo. It’s very open for interpretation – the previous life they had.”

Whitten stars as Mary, a hotel manager who has a complex relationship with an overbearing guest named Deb in “Meet the Bradleys,” written by Laura Coby, a junior majoring in English and theatre. Whitten described the play, directed by David Bolus, as being both funny and heartbreaking. Whitten said it’s been interesting exploring the play’s dynamic of relationships and mental health.

Both McMurray and Whitten said their directors had interesting, unconventional ways of rehearsing. McMurray performed her scene in a crowded public restaurant in order to get a feel for the awkwardness. Whitten said she didn’t have conventional rehearsals until last week, and instead the cast would have crafts night where they improvised as their characters.

“I, as my character, did water colors,” she said. “There were some interesting things we found out about our own characters that we wouldn’t know by reading the script.”

Whitten said knowing the writers adds another element to the play because she gets to see their personalities shine through the script. She said Nara has a dark humor but in person is really soft and teddy bear-like.

“It’s like being able to see how your friends’ minds work on paper,” she said. “Deb calls Mary ‘gal pal’ throughout the play, which is like nails on the chalkboard for her, but that’s so something Laura would say.”

Having student-written plays allows for more creative freedom, McMurray said, because it’s more of a community effort. If the department did a normal play, they would have to get the rights and special permission if they wanted to make changes.

The performance is also challenging for the actors because it is a new show. Since these characters had never been developed before, Whitten said she didn’t have an original cast to base her performance off of. They are the original cast.

Rather than seeing the performance as two separate plays, both actresses said the stories blend together and form one complex performance. Whitten said the set change in the middle acts as a mini act in itself because the actors are staying in character.

McMurray said the play breaks the fourth wall between the actors and the audience. She said the minimalistic set invokes an inviting and intimate relationship between them.

“It’s basically like you’re in a big attic and there’s random furniture pieces and trinkets,” she said. “Every night we create the set for the audience out of these miscellaneous pieces.”

Each of the performers prepares for their roles in different ways. Whitten said she tries to get into a very meticulous mindset, aware of how objects are structured in her environment and refusing help from others. She said Sarah Jane Peters, the actress who plays Deb, will be in the audience talking to people before the performance.

McMurray said she’s more excited than nervous for her first show at the University. She said she wants to make a place for herself in the program and the show has been a learning experience for her.

“I got the opportunity to learn from everybody else,” she said. “I think college theater is kind of a different ball game. It’s been a great experience to be in this show with all these seasoned actors.”