On April 22 and 23, Second Shades presented its second-ever showcase of scenes and play excerpts. These theatrical works, which featured and were directed and produced by students of color, maintained Second Shades’ mission as an independent theater group aimed at producing shows with diverse casts and production members.
The showcase opened withTreasurer of Second Shades Jonah Toussaint ’17 discussing the brief history of the group. The organization was founded in 2015 by Toussaint and current president Marcos Plaud Rivera ’18 as a response to the racial homogeneity that some students observe in the mainstream student-run theater group, Second Stage.
The showcase opened with Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” directed by Elizabeth Phan ’19. In a twist by Phan, all the dead characters wear starry, white masks. The scene depicts Othello (Malcolm Phillips ’19) murdering his wife, Desdemona (Marcia Saetang ’19), who was wrongly thought to have been cheating on her husband with his friend Cassio (David Machado ’18). Desdemona’s servant, Emilia (Patrique Harris ’18), pays Othello a visit and discovers that Desdemona, who hadn’t actually cheated on her husband, is dead; she calls out for help, and Iago (Adis Halilovic ’19) and several other characters stumble onto the scene, violently fighting over the unfolding drama and accusations. In the midst of all the commotion, Emilia is stabbed by her husband, Iago, and dies lying next to Desdemona. Iago, held prisoner by the others on stage, is stabbed and killed by Othello. Finally, after being threatened with punishment for his criminal actions, Othello stabs himself, wishing to die with his wife.
The next scene was from “Middle Finger,” an adaptation of German playwright Frank Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” by Han Ong. Wedekind’s play deals with issues such as students coming to terms with their sexual tendencies, depression, and confusion about life in repressive late 19th-century Germany. Ong’s play follows a similar plot, but is set in a modern-day Catholic school where Filipino students attempt to come to grips with their identities and the high expectations of their teachers.
Directed by Teresa Naval ’19, the scene focused on a student, played by Jejomar Erln Ysit ’19, and an essay he wrote. The essay describes a picture of him and his smiling mother, but the student is unable to understand why she was able to smile in the photo. The student constantly refers to the memory itself, expressing that it was not in the least a happy moment, but never fully articulates what had occurred. The scene then shifts to a discussion between the student and a school official (Alexis M. Jimenez ’19) who confronts the student over the essay, specifically his use of the word “mystery.” The student, after a lengthy interrogation, reveals that he plagiarized the essay from a book he found in the library.
Next up was a scene from Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Hansberry’s play follows the Youngers, a black family living in 1950s Chicago, a time and place in which wealthy, white neighborhoods often barred black families from integrating. In the scene, directed by Irvine Peck’s-Agaya ’18, Beneatha Younger (Olivia Pearson ’19) yearns to reclaim her African heritage, while her mother, Lena Younger (Tamare Adrien ’19), mocks her for it. Beneatha’s date, George Murchison (Keith Mundangepfupfu ’19), is a college-educated black man attempting to assimilate into white culture, and he shows up at the Youngers’ apartment only to be mocked and criticized by the drunken father Walter Younger (Charles Bonar ’19). The scene ultimately grapples with, as Toussaint pointed out before it began, the conflict between whether it’s better to assimilate into white culture, or to hold on to African roots.
“Rabbit Hole,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire and originally produced with a primarily white cast, was up next. The play itself focuses on a family’s reaction to the death of their four-year-old son, though the scene performed focuses on the father of the deceased, Howie (Ray Achan ’19, who also directed) as he is confronted by his impregnated wife’s sister, Izzy (Suyang Yang ’19) over a potential affair. Izzy accuses Howie of holding hands with, and potentially sleeping with, her friend, Rema. Howie denies the accusations, claiming that they were simply consoling each other over their individual grievances. The scene ultimately ends on an ambiguous note, avoiding determining whether Izzy’s accusations are true or not.
The last scene of the evening was from “The House on Mango Street,” a play based on the eponymous novel by Sandra Cisneros. The original novel comprises a series of vignettes revolving around Esperanza (Mya Valentin ’19), a young Latina woman growing up in a Mexican barrio. The scene, adapted from the source material and directed by Alexa De la Cruz ’17, follows Esperanza as she and her friends play jump rope, joke about developing hips, are taught lessons about preparing for the future, and grapple with parental abuse. The scene flows in and out of these issues and themes, segueing occasionally into subplots and then back to the main scene.
The night ended with a brief Q&A session about the scenes, as well as the Second Shades organization itself, with much of the cast and crew who had collaborated in the evening’s performances. When asked about the process of choosing the scenes and actors, Rivera responded by saying the process was largely democratic and open to all. Anyone who had contacted Second Shades about directing a scene was allowed to do so.
“We advertised through emails and Facebook,” he said. “Then we just opened the floor for people who wanted to act.”
When asked about the rehearsal process, De la Cruz said while she had to take into account that she was dealing with more diverse themes than most theater productions at Wesleyan, she approached the night’s performances with the same attitude she would have with any rehearsal process.
Azher Jaweed ’19, one of the actors in “Othello,” was the last to speak before the night ended, recounting that this was his first acting experience and addressing the experience of playing a traditionally white role.
“As I was doing the rehearsals, I was able to bring my own self to the character,” Jaweed said.
Before leaving, Touissant said, “You guys have been a great audience,” and, in an unusual twist, the Second Shades cast and crew applauded the audience.