Year in Review: 2016-2017
justArts looks back at the past year of theater at Brandeis, highlighting some of its standout productions.
Brandeis Department: ‘Martyr’
This past fall, the Brandeis Theater Arts Department put on “Martyr.” The play, written by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, follows one boy’s tempestuous journey into the depths of Christian fundamentalism. The show evaluated the more antiquated beliefs in monotheistic faith and contemporary religious extremism seen in today’s society with finesse, however, packed a lasting punch.
The play’s opening was unnervingly timely — a mere two weeks after Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election. Presenting fearful truths regarding the all-consuming abilities of religion from a surprisingly unbiased perspective, “Martyr” forces its audience to question where the line between devotion to religion and ideals and dangerous zealotry must be drawn.
While the whole cast performed their parts with intensity — creating a dizzying world holding the audience captive — standouts in the play were Benjamin, a young religious zealot played by Raphael Stigliano ’18, and his young, determined teacher Erika Roth, played by Jamie Semel ’17. Stigliano embodied a physicality and fervor as Benjamin which left viewers immobile in their seats, unable to shift their eyes from his aggressive movements when he was intimidating and pressuring his classmate, mother, principal and teachers. Similarly, in the play’s culminating scene — the broken Ms. Roth nailing herself to the ground in a form of her own religious radicalism — Semel expertly juggled her character’s confliction as the victim of Benjamin’s fundamentalist extremism, as well as her own idealistic liberalism’s martyr, in an uncomfortably visceral scene.
Overall, “Martyr” was a play the Brandeis community will not soon forget as it set the stage for such pressing issues in today’s world, namely religious ideology and how to deal with it in modern society.
— Hannah Kressel
24 Hour: ‘High School Musical’
A beloved Brandeis University tradition, the 24 Hour Musical takes place every year toward the beginning of the fall semester. Occurring soon after students arrive on campus to begin the new school year, students come together to put together a musical — start to finish — in 24 hours.
This year’s 24 Hour Musical was the production of an audience favorite, High School Musical. Produced by Tympanium Euphorium and Hillel Theater Group, all students, whether in the cast or in the audience, enjoyed the music, the dancing and the humor that the show offered. Ben LoCascio ’20 and Karina Wen ’20, as Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez, respectively, truly embodied the characters that students hold close to their hearts from their childhood.
What was most enjoyable to students was that it invoked a sense of nostalgia. Because so many students already knew the songs and plot of the story, it was easy for the audience to just enjoy the scenes as they happened and have fun with their friends. They were able to sing along and not worry about missing an important plot point.
Every year, the 24 Hour Musical impresses the University community. Although comical and sometimes a nostalgic remembrance of childhood favorites, the actors and actresses conduct themselves in a professional manner, given the time constraints.
High School Musical was no exception as the actors and actresses came together to put together an already widely loved story.
— Jen Geller
Brandeis Department: ‘Leveling Up’
The Brandeis Department of Theater Arts outdid itself back in March with its production of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s “Leveling Up.” The story itself carried a powerful message for an audience of college students preparing to enter the “real world” and touched on the importance of interpersonal relations in society as a whole. The Department began to bring this story to life with an intricately crafted set. With an actual set of stairs, a refrigerator and typical worn-out couches, the audience was submerged in a remarkably realistic post-college basement. From there, the chilling character development of Ian (Andrew Child ’19) and his gradual departure from reality and loss of humanity kept all audience members locked in as the theater-wide suspense grew. The Department then took the play to a whole new level, so to speak, with the shocking fight between Ian, Jeannie (Gabi Nail ’18) and Zander (Dan Souza ’19). With people being thrown into cabinets, punches flying and an abundance of fake blood, these collegiate actors stunned the audience with their terrifyingly convincing performances. This play left its audience members with a lasting impression of fear and heightened consciousness, and the inspired efforts of the entire Department culminated in a spectacular all-around production.
— Ben Katcher
Open Cast: ‘Footloose’
The Hillel Theater Group chose Herbert Ross’s “Footloose” for its annual spring open cast musical. Directed by Rachel Josselsohn ’17, the production, which premiered on March 30, starred Adina Jacobson ’20 as Ariel Moore and Justin Chimoff ’20 as Ren McCormack. Set in the small town of Bomont, “Footloose” tells the story of newcomer Ren’s struggle to adjust after moving from Chicago and learning that rock music and dancing have been banned following the tragic deaths of five teenagers (one of whom was Ariel’s older brother) several years earlier. As Ariel clashes with her strict father Rev. Shaw Moore (Bryan McNamara ’19) and abusive boyfriend Chuck (Jose Castellanos ’18) and Ren finds himself getting into trouble with various authorities for violating the rule against dancing, the two main characters begin to fall for each other.
Although largely following the original “Footloose” script, the production team added a chilling dance number to the beginning of the musical that depicted the previous deaths of the five teenagers. The set designers chose a minimalistic setting consisting of an elevated wooden walkway with stairs on either side, allowing the audience’s focus to remain on the considerable acting talents of the entire cast.
— Avraham Penso