Have you ever heard a conversation going on in the room next to you—perhaps between complete strangers—and wondered how that story might intersect with your own? Perhaps the speakers are intimately connected to your life, just one mutual acquaintance away. This is one of the central ideas explored this past weekend in “A Hallway Play,” a piece of original, site-specific theater created by Cameron Couch ’13. Compelling and entertaining by turns, this was an occasionally uneven but thoroughly enjoyable debut from this playwright.
Technically speaking, “A Hallway Play” might be better described as a series of six plays and an epilogue. Couch’s play consisted of six one- or two-person vignettes, which were staged in the six classrooms adjoining the first-floor hallway of the 41 Wyllys building. In keeping with the numerical motif, each play was crafted to be exactly six minutes long. Audience members could visit the rooms in any order, even repeating a room if they so desired (though that would mean irrevocably sacrificing another performance). The plays contained in these rooms toyed with various types of human connection, from that of strangers to family members to lovers.
My experience of the evening began with “Love You, Too,” one of the strongest pieces of the night, capably performed by Lu Corporan ’13. “Love You, Too” was a beautifully crafted conversation between a father and his (recently out, it would seem) gay daughter. As Corporan’s character struggled with his own feelings (one repeated line was “I don’t know the words. I just…don’t know the right words”), I worried that we were about to be exposed to a sermon-play. To my great pleasure, Couch managed to avoid that common and fatal trap for young playwrights—one of the great successes of the vignette and of the evening in general was its refusal to create an “issue play” out of any moment. Corporan’s stiff, uncertain but loving father was clearly sketched as a human being, not a caricature of The Bigot, and the piece included surprising moments of humor and tenderness.
The two most overtly didactic plays, tellingly, were also the weakest. “The Gift,” while telling an interesting story, felt most like an experimental exercise—the members of the couple in conflict never actually spoke to each other, but (confusingly) did face each other several times, especially at the top. The performances, by Megan Cash ’14 and Justin Greene ’16, were satisfactory but sometimes stilted, and the identity of the people they were addressing (each other? us?) usually unclear. “Nightmare Date,” exploring a couple winding down from what was (for one of them) the eponymous event, featured solid performances from Marianna Ilagan ’15 and Ross Levin ’15, but a rather staid arc (even for six minutes) of conflict, resolution, and neat and tidy conclusion.
These moments, however, were minor aberrations in an enjoyable evening, and their worst crime was tedium. Two of the other pieces, “Automatic Writing” and “Phone Manipulation,” were touching and intriguing pieces of theater. The first, featuring the reliably talented Leah Khambata ’14 and newcomer Laura Hess ’16, explored the limitations and censorship we impose on ourselves through the act of free writing. The second, featuring Sandy Durosier ’13, took us through a few minutes in the life of Cheryl (the girlfriend of the daughter of the man played by Corporan) as she tried to make plans with various friends over the phone. Durosier is a natural comedian, and this piece in particular showed off the humorously natural flair of Couch’s writing.
The piece that perhaps epitomized the evening, though, was “Talking to Strangers,” an interactive solo featuring the mesmerizing newcomer Sarah Burkett ’14, a transfer to Wes this past fall. Playing another woman named Cheryl, Burkett spoke directly to her audience, inquiring about audience members’ favorite colors, hometowns, and thoughts. Nervous giggles and laughter abounded—Burkett was a powerful presence, one I hope to see more of on Wesleyan stages in the future (the best description I can think of is “corporate dominatrix”). At one point, Cheryl instructed the audience members to hold their breath for as long as possible. In the ensuing silence, very faintly, the sounds of the other vignettes drifted into the space, offering tantalizing hints of what the rest of the audience must be experiencing.
Although the many experiences of the play could sometimes feel disparate and confusing (were all the Cheryls the same person, or merely a series of women sharing the same name?), the many conversations were brought into a moment of harmony after the sixth and final iteration, affably presided over by Afi Tettey-Fio ’13. In a charmingly expressionistic moment, the audience (trapped by Couch and co-producer Becca Fredrick ’14) got to watch all nine members of the cast emerge from their rooms and interact, the lines from the many different plays blending and echoing, bouncing off each other in ways that sometimes cohered and sometimes didn’t. As they exited this final time, the cast pulled out their cell phones and—this time as themselves—began to carry on conversations with unseen family or friends. It was a fitting end to this experimental and contemplative new work on missed connections, one that featured a great many talents that I would like to see developed.