Arts and Entertainment | Theater

NOMADS explores family dynamics in student plays

  • Tianyue Sun / Senior Staff Photographer
    ABC | Students perform as part of “WORDPLAY,” a show containing three original student plays.

With “WORPLAY,” three student playwrights explored themes of family and acceptance with the annual theater show, which was performed on Feb. 28 and March 1. The student-written theater show is run by New and Original Material Authored and Directed by Students.

“Throw Cares Away,” written by Lilla Goettler, BC ’14, gives an intense start to the show, delving into familial divisions created by the generation gap between parent and child. An enterprising young woman named Maisie (Sarah Suzuki, BC ’16) is kicked out of college, having snuck onto school property to break into private offices in the name of social justice. Her father cannot rationalize his daughter’s political motivations. As someone who has been forced to work and provide for his family under what his daughter refers to as “the great capitalist machine,” he is convinced that this machine is what “makes the world go round.”

The play juxtaposes these two characters, making them loudly argue their two extremely different viewpoints, and doesn’t seem to invite the audience to agree or disagree with either one. 

The second play, “Chicken Noodle Soup,” written by Emily Sorensen, CC ’14, also explores the theme of domestic conflict. It centers around Danny (Stephan Adamow, CC ’15), a dyslexic boy whose disorder is mocked by all the members of his family. Danny grows up to be a liberal who is passionate about social justice, even going so far as to sue Campbell Soup Company for having a small number “W”s in its alphabet soup—because, according to him, it discriminates against people whose names contain the letter “W.”

The play unfolds anecdotally, each anecdote titled with a letter, and flashes backward and forward through Danny’s life. Especially significant among these memories is his strained relationship with his conservative father, whom Danny claims to hate but still wants to impress. At the end of the play, Danny is able to read the phrase “chicken noodle soup,” and he experiences a moment of triumph in a society that doesn’t meet his needs.

“Chicken Noodle Soup” touches on the way we treat those who deviate from the norm. The audience gains a sense of the alienation Danny feels by watching the way in which he reacts to his interactions with others. Even little things, such as getting an F in Language Arts and being mocked for it by his sister, have a huge effect on him. Viewers also see the way that able-bodied members of such a system have internalized these values in Danny’s father’s complete intolerance of his son, and how such intolerance is harmful to them both. 

The final play, “The Shantytown Shorts,” by Chantal McStay, CC ’15, also examines the complex relationships between family members. Peter (Kobe Boateng, SEAS ’16) is the moderately successful, independent brother, Kyle (Eric Wimer, CC ’16) is the eccentric underachiever, and Nick (Harry Bickford, CC ’17) is the theater-obsessed starving artist. Now that their mother has died, Nick is determined to produce the plays she wrote: “The Shantytown Shorts.”

The play focuses on how far-reaching family bonds really are. Peter tells his brothers it’s okay for them to have their own lives, as evidenced by his reluctance to be involved in the plays and his urging Nick to sell the family house. Nick and Kyle, meanwhile, seem to have a familial duty with which they justify their less-than-stellar life choices. But, by the end of the play, they convince Peter to take part in this mother’s plays.

The play seems to sympathize with Nick and Kyle, portraying Peter as somewhat uncaring in his initial refusal to partake in the tribute to his mother. However, Peter is shown to care for his mother—it is not heartlessness that drives his decision. This refusal to depict two-dimensional characters as neither wholly good nor wholly bad is what makes “The Shantytown Shorts” so genuine.

In their journey into complicated family dynamics, “Throw Cares Away,” “Chicken Noodle Soup,” and “The Shantytown Shorts” create characters and conflicts that are genuine, moving, and relatable.

arts@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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