Caught in the Act

The Underground New Play Festival shows at The Arthur Wagner Theater from May 29 to June 6.

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

The lights! The drama! The laughs! Undergraduate theater is alive and well at UCSD, and the Underground New Play Festival has been at the forefront of it for nearly a decade. This festival of five short plays is entirely staffed, produced and acted by undergraduates right here on campus. It’s a chance for students from all majors and colleges to make in-depth, professional-level theater. We had the special chance this year to actually peek into the rehearsal rooms and observe firsthand how these artists and volunteers perform their craft. Here, you’ll find plenty of the cool things we observed and learned from our visits. The UNPF performs the weekends of Weeks 9 and 10, and more information is available on the UCSD theater and dance website.

— Nathan Cook (Staff Writer)

“5 Minutes to Curtain”
Written by Kirstin Rower
Directed by Kylie Holloway

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

Half an hour before the house opens! Yet the cast of “Polonius: A Song Unsung” is in a mess: much of the crew is missing or fighting over technological issues. … How can it arrange everything and make sure the play will begin on time? “5 Minutes to Curtain” is a show that shifts between Shakespearean theater and modern theater. There is a play within a play, just like in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which just so happens to be the story they are performing within “5 Minutes to Curtain.” Funny, dynamic and performed with exaggerated and amusing body language, this is a play you wouldn’t want to miss during this year’s festival.

“For me, the best part of the play is the fight between the stage manager and the actors, which is acted in a way that is as ridiculous as possible,” Anne Whitaker, who plays the hoped-to-be-star character Nina says. “Have no expectation for what you will see.”

— Yidian Huang (Contributing Writer)

“Dimmer Switches”
Written by Aaron Flores
Directed by Tin Le

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

As the sun goes down and the night flies by, time is running out for a group of best friends to say any last words they may have to one another in the play, “Dimmer Switches.” Written by graduating senior Aaron Flores, this play will return audiences to fond memories of youth and the struggles of growing up and apart.

“I think it’s a piece that covers one of the classic dilemmas of love intermingling with friendship,” Johnny Barry said, who plays Jaime, the smart but awkward friend who is the glue that binds the group together. “The decision to act on one’s feelings for another is never clear and can be a very scary one. I think the play does a good job of illustrating that.”

Each of the main characters has a very different personality, but audiences will be drawn in by the sense of comradery that even when tested still holds strong.

— Devon Munos (Staff Writer)

“The Monster’s Return”
Written by Aleksandra Konstantinovic
Directed by Allison Win

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

It’s a unique character who can be described as a cross between a fifth-grade bully and Rafiki from “The Lion King” — and “unique” is exactly what “The Monster’s Return” offers. Twitch, with the personality of an emotionally intelligent, immature child, is the monster who lives in Jamie’s closet. She flips the cliche of a scary monster on its head by turning into a type of therapist for Jamie as he returns to his childhood home for his estranged father’s funeral. Though the play abounds with sensitivity, it’s hard to take it too seriously — a feature the small cast, led by debut director Allison Win, revels in. Characters shoot snarky comments at each other (Twitch points out, meaningfully, that she has watched Jamie grow up), and Twitch has a little too much fun with a broom. Intertwined with the play’s inherent humor, however, is a focus on character — a focus deepened and drawn more acutely by the crew members’ clear commitment and understanding of their characters. “The Monster’s Return,” then, offers a smartly written play devoted to characters, humor and a surprisingly non-monstrous humanity.

— Jennifer Grundman (Associate Copy Editor)

“A Sunset on Mars”
Written by Timothy Barnett
Directed by Jenny Grober

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

The inevitability of death can leave you feeling helpless, as if you have no control over what happens to you. In “A Sunset on Mars,” Thom, played by Josiah Glesener, becomes an astronaut floating above Earth to show how it feels for a man dying of cancer to be powerless as he watches life slip through his fingers. The cast gets into character by removing all distractions and experimenting with gestures, character interactions, emotions and movements while listening to “Astronaut” by Beach House.

“It’s like the heartbeat of the play,” Glesener said. “The melodies recall Thom’s strange childhood, his obsession with the vastness of space and his crippling loneliness from the brain tumor taking over his life.”

The play also explores themes of interpretation and the willingness to listen. The Swedish words sprinkled heavily throughout the play are meant to challenge the audience in the way they receive language and information, as well as connect to the author’s Swedish roots. Ultimately, the team has come together to convincingly expand on a man’s battle with cancer as he deals with the ideas of loss, disillusionment and perspective.

— Chrissy Dodd (Contributing Writer)

“As Luck Would Have It”
Written by Audrey Sechrest
Directed by Leilani Tuiletufuga

Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.
Photo by Siddharth Atre/UCSD Guardian.

“As Luck Would Have It” peeks into the world after it starts to fall apart. A new zombie-esque disease has hit critical mass, and the government has implemented a quarantine. Bruce (Jordan Ferguson) is holed up in his store and wants as little to do with the disease as possible. However, when a stranger (Andrea Bensussen) looking for supplies enters unwelcomingly, Bruce must decide whether he can and should trust her.

Though audiences have grown accustomed to and often tired of formulaic zombie hits, such as “The Walking Dead” and “World War Z,” director Leilani Tuiletufuga believes that the play is not your typical zombie-apocalypse story.

“At the core of this play, it’s about humanity, it’s about compassion and it’s ultimately about forgiveness and trust,” Tuiletufuga said.

Loaded with tense dialogue, poetic action sequences and a challenging ending, “As Luck Would Have It” serves as both an audience-pleaser and a thought-piece by shelving the zombie “drama” and delivering genuine human drama.

— Jacky To (News Editorial Assistant)