Taking control: ACC students make directing debuts

Allen Community College theater students will offer five student-directed plays tonight through Saturday at the ACC Theatre. The plays offer thought-provoking and often humorous takes on romance and reality.

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February 25, 2021 - 10:06 AM

After Rachel Shaffer’s character drugs her date, Blake Hess, he needs her assistance to call someone for help in “The Modern American Romance Not Often Seen.” It’s one of five student-directed one-act plays offered at ACC Theatre at 7:30 tonight through Saturday. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Allen Community College theater students will offer five thought-provoking takes on relationships and reality this weekend.

The college presents its student-directed one-act plays starting tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the ACC Theatre.

It’s an opportunity for experienced theater students to take charge of a production, from selecting the play and the cast through overseeing the final performances. 

Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students. Allen students, faculty and staff are free.

Tickets will be available at the door, however, due to the ongoing national pandemic, seating will be limited. To reserve a seat, contact Trevor Belt, Director of Theatre, via email at belt@allencc.edu. Seating will be socially distanced, and per college guidelines, all patrons attending performances will be required to wear a mask. 

The skits contain adult content and are not recommended for individuals under the age of 15.  

Following is a review of each performance, along with the director’s take:

The Modern American Romance Not Often Seen

Things aren’t looking good for Avery Minowitz, a character played by Blake Hess of Garnett. It’s his second date with Deedee Fishman (Rachel Shaffer of Moran). She slipped him “a roofie” during dinner and dragged his drugged body back to her apartment.

It’s a darkly hilarious twist on the dangers of modern dating, and the desperate desire to be loved. 

Hess delivers a standout performance without doing any standing. He’s scared and confused, then angry and perplexed.

He masterfully handles his sedated body as he comes to terms with his unexpected condition.

Shaffer’s manic energy also shines. She’s bubbly but psychotic. With a slightly crazed lilt to her voice, she cheerfully explains why she felt the need to drug her date. It’s a very physical role for her as well, as she tosses Hess about like a rag doll.

Student director Maxwell Kays of Humboldt said he chose the play because he wanted to deliver a smart comedy with dramatic elements. 

It was his first time in the director’s chair. Kays said he enjoyed the responsibility. 

“I’ve always sort of had a capacity to lead people, and I always have a vision. But one thing I’ve had trouble with is putting that vision into reality, so this experience definitely helped me learn how to do that,” Kays said. 

Gabriella Fast, Adryan Nading and Jonathan Wall cope with the fallout from discovering a secret in “The Right to Remain.” Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

The Right to Remain

Things aren’t going so well in the second play, either.

Dad Peter, played by Adryan Nading of Iola, comes home to find his wife Amy (Gabriella Fast, Ottawa) and son Josh (Jonathan Wall, Iola) have turned against him. They’re both cold and defiant, and he’s confused.

The son, head buried in a computer, refuses to come to the dinner table and the wife is perfectly content to allow this disobedience. Seems they know his secret, and they aren’t happy about it.

Nading fills the stage with angry masculinity, seemingly more offended that his family would defy his orders rather than contrite about his actions. He screams and curses, getting in his son’s face. 

Fast is heartbreaking with her hostility, and becomes increasingly hurt and angry as the scene progresses and details are revealed.

Wall seems disconnected and defiant at first, ignoring everything but his computer. But as the truth starts to come out, he’s even more terrifying with calm threats.

The play is dramatic, dark and intense.

Director Bryce Nathaniel of Colony said the play is a bit more serious than some of the more comedic one-acts of the night.

His first experience directing was a learning experience, plagued by challenges from the bitter cold spell last week that kept the actors from practicing. 

Directing changed his perspective. He learned to step back and see the bigger picture.

“I’ve had to learn how to use more specific words. I can’t just tell them, ‘Slow down.’ I have to explain exactly how to do it,” he said. 

River Hess, left, is thrown for a loop when he’s hit on by the wacky, unpredictable Bryce Nathaniel in “Daniel on a Thursday.”Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Daniel on a Thursday

This delightful comedy will keep your head spinning. 

It takes place in a gay bar, where Daniel Delmonico (River Hess, Iola) is quietly enjoying a beer and watching The Golden Girls, as he does every Thursday.

Bryce Nathaniel plays Kevin Carpenter, who hits on Daniel with an increasingly zany pickup routine. He’s never who he says he is — again, and again.

Loud and boisterous, Nathaniel delights in being as obnoxious as possible. 

Hess waves off the attention at first. He’s more interested in staying inside his safe, predictable bubble. He’s annoyed, confused, intrigued, frustrated and angry — emotions all deftly portrayed by Hess. 

It’s fun but also quite touching.

Director Jake Andersen of Iola wanted to deliver a comedy that might make people think a bit, but mostly he wanted to give the audience a good laugh. He easily achieved that goal.

During the casting process, Andersen looked not at individual actors but at pairs. He wanted two actors with the right chemistry. 

“I’ve worked with both (Hess and Nathaniel) extensively,” Andersen said. “These are two people who work well together. It was evident from Day One, they had this intense chemistry.”

The experience will help him be more mindful and patient as an actor in the future, he said. 

“I have more respect for the process.”

Carolyn Appleton and Maxwell Kays struggle with their inner demons in “Afterlife.”Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Afterlife

The scene is a church confessional in the year 2025. Things have changed, and women can now be priests and even the Pope. 

Iolan Carolyn Appleton plays Mother Kathleen, who takes her role as a female priest very seriously. That is, until her high school sweetheart enters her confessional.

She does not want to hear about his sins, and she’s not about to absolve him. Appleton perfectly balances a calm, controlled demeanor with the inflamed passions of a scorned lover. She even curses. In church, no less.

Kays takes the stage as Mickey, a hitman looking to unburden his soul to someone he knows he can trust. And still cares about. Kays plays the role as someone both tormented yet lacking real remorse: “Aside from my one ongoing sin, I’ve lived a pretty exemplary life.”

They’re at opposite ends of the moral spectrum, though still drawn to each other. The chemistry between Kays and Appleton is believable. 

Director Parker Smith of Iola said he wanted a comedy with serious, real-life issues. He cast Appleton and Kays because he’d seen how well they worked together in the previous ACC play, “Love and Information.”

“They bounce off each other really well,” he said.

Smith approached his responsibility from a different angle than the other student directors. 

He plans to become a drama teacher, likely at the high school level, and saw this as an opportunity to practice his directing skills. 

He has directed younger children before, but this was his first time working with his peers.

Overseeing the production takes a lot of work, he realized, and he especially had to learn how to be patient.

Krais Baker calls a social media support center in “Herdlife.”Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Herdlife

The final play of the evening is a relatable tale of the struggle to determine what’s real in the age of social media.

It has the largest cast, though most of the actors are not seen for long. One character is mostly portrayed through a black-and-white screen.

Krais Baker of Yates Center is The Caller. He’s upset with the state of the world, and calls a social media customer support line in search of “The Truth.” He’s sick of the divisive drivel  and click bait, and you can feel his frustration.

Illiana Gallardo of Topeka takes his call with cold detachment. She’s heard it all. 

She transfers the call to the Content Manager, which turns out to be the sweetly robotic voice of Lexie Vega, Iola. She confounds The Caller with her twisted logic: Fake news is real, which makes it true. 

“I hope that I’ve been able to satisfactorily answer your query,” she repeats, much to the teeth-gnashing frustration of anyone who’s ever called into customer service. 

She’s irritatingly professional.

JieJie Means of Iola rounds out the cast in a small and unseen role as Trish. 

Director Jonathan Wall of Iola was excited to offer the play. He hopes attendees will find it thought-provoking.

“It’s something that is part of our world, but it isn’t really touched on,” he explained. “It might ruffle some feathers.”

Wall drew on real-world experiences to help him understand how to present the play. He recalled how someone had made a fake Facebook page for one of his relatives, then sent nasty messages to their pastor. It caused unnecessary complications and took time to sort out. 

“I gave it quite a bit of thought and detail. It’s more of a drama but there are some funny parts,” he said. “I took inspiration from shows like the Twilight Zone and Black Mirror.”

His biggest challenge was learning how to direct a cast of actors he’s worked with often, and considers friends. 

“You have to direct them in a way that doesn’t endanger your friendship,” he said. “It’s a fine balance. I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I think you’ll enjoy it.”

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