The annual Palo Alto High School Theater class’s One Acts plays allow the program to showcase its students’ skills in acting, writing and directing for the stage. After a successful first show, this year’s series of short performances have proven once again to be a fun and amusing with a diverse lineup.
The One Acts showcase is the Theater program’s last show of the school year and consists of several short plays acted, directed and, in some cases, written by Paly Theater students. Compared to the bigger productions put on earlier in the year, the One Acts performances are quaint and simple, but that is what gives them their charm. Besides, those descriptions probably don’t do justice to all the time and work spent on the plays, which makes them even more impressive.
This year’s lineup includes three original plays written by Paly students, two adapted scripts and a performance by the Paly Improv Troupe.
The Improv Troupe, led by senior Marcus Edholm, starts the night off with two rounds of “foursquare.” The improv game has four performers organize themselves in a square and rotate at the order of an outside leader. The duo facing the audience starts a scene with each other, but when the leader orders them to rotate, the scene is paused and the new duo starts a different scenario. All the scenes must include a key word given by the audience and must persist between similar duos.
The four rapidly-changing stories can get wild and bizarre, but make for some great spontaneous laughs. As with all improv acts there were hits and misses, but the actors stuck to their scenes and characters regardless of whatever strange tangent their partner sent them on, and I enjoyed watching their impromptu stories develop on the spot.
The first written performance is “Tell Me a Story,” written by senior Curtis Wu and directed by Edholm. In it, sophomore Paul Bleich’s stressed and caffeine-addicted character Chris calls upon his cooler, smarter friend Jake, played by sophomore Ophir Sneh, to help him with his Psychology course thesis by having him tell Chris three stories to psychoanalyze despite not having three real cases to study.
However, whenever Jake begins a story, the focus shifts to a different scene about a man named Mark, played by junior Guive Assadi, actually being psychoanalyzed by his psychologist Joan, played by sophomore Adele Bloch. Mark then tells the story, and the play once again shifts to Sneh acting as the characters Assadi describes. The result is interestingly meta and works as a fantastic way to study characters and personas. My only complaint is that it ended so soon because it would have only improved with more time.
The next play, “Doors,” is written by sophomore Charlotte Moffat and directed by junior Sabrina Sonner. The story follows a librarian named Cora, played by junior Riley Cassidy, who has a strange encounter in her quiet, unassuming workplace. A mysterious reoccurring figure, played by freshman Erin Reynolds, claims to be Janus, the Roman god of doors, endings and transitions. The events of the play are rather simple, mostly consisting of Cora’s interactions with Janus and her interpretations of them being bounced off her friend, but the conclusion takes a turn for the confusing and intriguing. I don’t think I got it entirely, but its crypticness is what made this play special.
“Sure Thing” is the first adapted script of the night, written by David Ives and directed by freshman Jason Pollak. The premise is simple: Bill, played by junior Will Kast, attempts to court junior Madison Mignola’s character Betsy, who is reading a book alone in a cafe. Every time either one of them screws up or says something awkward, a girl with an assortment of loud instruments, played by freshman Leanne Miron, interjects with a noise and resets the scene at Bill’s last successful chatting point.
It’s a hilarious script, with plenty of clever gags and a neat, fast pacing. The three actors nailed the timing of their lines and cues, undoubtedly with the help of their director. “Sure Thing” could have gone poorly very easily, but the dedication to precision and accuracy was what made this adaptation so much fun to watch and my favorite play of the night.
After an intermission, it’s time for the next adapted script “The Six of Calais.” Written by George Bernard Shaw and directed by senior Aaron Slipper, this play tells the story of the Burghers of Calais (immortalized and exhibited on the Stanford campus by master sculptor Auguste Rodin). The Burghers were six town elders of the French hold Calais, who sacrificed themselves to the English King Edward III, played by freshman Johnny Rohrbach, for the safety of their city.
It’s the longest and biggest play of the night, with a cast of twelve and two Medieval-style war tents flanking the stage. The play is surprisingly humorous for an event typically depicted as somber. Slipper did do the event some dramatic justice throughout his adaptation, especially during the scenes between King Edward and the more defiant Burghers. The only big issue was the projector, which displayed slides of semi-related pieces of art throughout the play. It felt unnecessary and distracting when it overshadowed the performers.
The last performance is “Foul Play,” written by senior Dashiel Grusky and directed by sophomore Molly Kraus. It’s the most tongue-in-cheek script by far, telling the story of a county fair’s best-in-show competition for donkeys. Ryan, played by junior Ido Gal, loves his perfect donkey Harold, played by freshman Joey Kellison-Linn, but despises his business associate Rosemary, played by senior Aida Goma-Petite. They have to work together in the most convoluted way possible to defeat Ryan’s rival and his schemes involving a parrot. I still don’t quite get how a parrot could pass as a donkey and vice versa, but it’s the fact that all the characters understand this as a seemingly typical thing that makes it humorous. It was a silly, fun way to end the night.
The variety and talent in all the plays is impressive and speaks to the strength of Paly’s Theater program and its members. The quick bursts of drama, comedy and intrigue kept me entertained throughout, and it was easily worth the easy two hours it ran for.
One Acts are playing again Friday May 2 and Saturday May 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Haymarket Theater. Tickets cost $5 for students and $7 for adults.