Hold On to Your Hats

    In “Indiana Jones,” Harrison Ford’s eponymous character dodges boulders, escapes Nazis and nearly falls off cliffs — all while holding on to his beloved fedora.

    In fact, in the most classic Indy scenes, the archaeologist appears to prefer danger to the prospect of losing his hat. But such a reaction is understandable: His hat is pretty damn cool.

    But what if Indiana Jones had chosen his fedora over his woman? His headwear would not be merely a stylish means of protecting his scalp — it would become a character itself, a worthy competitor to the affection of real human beings.

    Leave it to the UCSD Theatre and Dance Department’s MFA candidates to bring that twist to life. Every spring, the MFA students in playwriting, directing, acting and design work together to create new plays for the Baldwin New Play festival (running until April 23), and — as the future pioneers of the theatre industry — the artists choose to break convention.

    Hence the dude and his hat.

    Joshua Brody, the director of “A Man, His Wife and His Hat” — a comedy written by MFA playwright Lauren Yee — thinks the festival is a great opportunity to witness emerging artists, especially for those who aren’t already familiar with the work of UCSD’s graduate theatre department.

    “There is so much great theatre happening right here on campus,” Brody said. “As new plays tend to be, these are a great starting place for seasoned theatergoers and newcomers alike.”

    Production begins once the playwrights finish their scripts Fall Quarter. The plays are then workshopped by directors; rehearsals begin after auditions at the end of Winter Quarter. For Brody, the production process has been exceptionally rewarding.

    “I can say with complete confidence and sincerity that this has been the most fulfilling artistic collaboration of my life,” he said.

    The other directors feel the same way. Like a summer camp production, the process has been entirely collaborative, with MFA candidates participating in every aspect.

    Anthony Luciano, the director of the Krista Knight-penned “Salamander Leviathan,” a self-described “casio-pop” style musical about what happens when an optimistic man is confronted with the devil, believes the play will have a life after the Baldwins.

    “None of us think this is going to be the last time we do this play together,” he said. “It’s cool to be part of something that you think will move forward.”

    The same optimistic attitude has tamed the directors’ traditional pre-show jitters.

    “It’s funny; I know I should be nervous,” Brody said. “Normally by this point in a process I’m having anxiety nightmares … over the prospect of opening night approaching. This time? With ‘A Man, His Wife and His Hat?’ I feel an overwhelming sense of calm. I have complete trust in everyone who’s working on the project, so it just feels like it’s going to work out.”

    If anything, the content of the plays themselves are varied enough to entertain audiences of all kinds.

    Larissa Lury’s “Small Prophecies,” written by David Myers, deals with the trials of parenthood and growing up. The director describes it as “a 14-year-old boy, his friends, his parents and an incident of some consequence.”
    Lury said that the powerful story has the capacity to reach a wide variety of theatregoers.

    “I would say it is about trying to be who you are in the world, and whether or not you want to be that person once you think you’ve discovered who that is,” Lury said. “And whether or not you have any choice either way.”
    “Salamander Leviathan” is like the raucous brother of the bunch. The play is a rock ‘n’ roll musical, with tunes written by Arkansas native Barry Brinegar.

    The composer, who also leads the band David’s Pegasus, penned music that director Luciano believes is “loud, fun and really earnest.”

    It’s the first musical Luciano has directed, though music has still found a place in his previous work. (A veteran of Shakespearean theatre, the director sneaked live music into his production of “The Tempest.”)

    Even though the play sports some familiar traits — the delta-blues score and sell-your-soul-to-the-devil narrative — Luciano says that it also reflects the state of the world today (all with a “super hot” cast).

    “The play proposes a question that is really pertinent right now. It feels like the world is a little strange… it feels as if any sort of positive change is impossible,” Luciano said. “I think the play is really surprising because it remains hopeful. But it’s not in any way adolescent or idealistic. It recognizes that change is still possible but it recognizes that it comes at a great cost.”

    Brody’s “A Man, His Wife and His Hat” — a feel-good story intended to emphasize the value of human life — is lighter-hearted.

    “Our play is like a hug, a really great hug,” Brody joked. “Only maybe you were crying a little before it hugged you. And then it hugged you and you cried onto its shoulder a little. But then you started laughing. And then you laughed really hard. All while it was hugging you. And then it let you go and you just felt better about the world.”

    Amidst the laughs and fedoras, Brody promises plenty of introspection.

    “It’s also a play about love and the search for yourself,” he said. ‘These are important things, lest we forget. I’m a hopeless romantic in many ways, and this play satisfies both my need for the importance of love and the snarky comedy of the ‘Family Guy’ era.”

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