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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘365 Plays/365 Days’ is an abstract wonder

Published: December 6, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

Contrary to what some people may think, Brandeis’ production of “365 Plays/365 Days” does not actually consist of 365 plays in one show. The plays performed at Spingold were selected based on three themes that director Akiba Abaka noticed as she read the entire play. Suzan-Lori Parks, who wrote the show, actually wrote 365 plays (she started on Nov. 13, 2002 and finished writing exactly one year later), but this production only includes 24.

According to Abaka, each play is “to be experienced on its own as a separate and complete story, and they are arranged to be experienced as one narrative image.” Although every story is different, there are overarching themes of love and war (especially the second Gulf War, which was on the verge of happening when Parks was writing her plays) and Abraham Lincoln. Starring Nicole Dalton (GRAD), Brian Dorfman ’16, Zada Amata Eshun ’14, Lisa Galperin ’14, Miriam Esther Goldman ’14, Brandon Green (GRAD), Jen Largaespada ’16, Ryan Millis ’15, Margaret Much-Hichos ’15, Shaquan Perkins ’14, Barbara Rugg ’15, Debora Trierweiler Cruz ’15 and Sarah Waldron ’17, “365 Plays/365 Day” is an extremely unusual show that is both confusing and entrancing.

The show was held at the Merrick Theater at the Spingold Theater Center. Like the show itself, the seating arrangement was rather unconventional. In front of one wall, there were two rows of chairs, while three rows of chairs were set up on the opposite wall. The stage, which was at audience level, was in the space between the two clusters of chairs. In each play, various drawings of war, handwritten letters and other images were projected onto all four walls, as if to trap the audience members in every scenario.

Upon walking into the theater, I saw a woman (Zada Amata Eshun) laying on a park bench in the middle of the stage. The entire audience sat down and watched; there was very little talking going on, even before the show even started. Kudos to the cast for that.

As previously stated, “365 Plays/365 Day” is not very digestible, especially for those who go to the theater expecting to see a cohesive storyline acted out on stage. For example, most of the sub-plays were seemingly random. Not surprising, since Parks herself said, “Every day for the next year I would wake up and ask myself, ‘Okay, so what’s the play?’ and then I wrote what came.”

None of the plays were lighthearted; there was underlying tension in all of them. For example, in “November 14: Father Comes Home from the Wars (Part 1),” we see an estranged couple reunite after the husband (Brandon Green) returns home from war with what seems to be PTSD. While he sits in a chair, his fakely nonchalant wife (Nicole Dalton) creeps up behind him and unsuccessfully attempts to kill him with a frying pan.

I cannot choose a “best play” in tonight’s production. Every play was eloquent, magnetic and intense. Some of the plays did not even have any dialogue; instead, modern dance was utilized to express characters’ emotions. Other plays seemed to have famous influences. “Project Macbeth,” for example, obviously was influenced by Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

The cast consisted of a good mix of graduate and undergraduate students. I was thoroughly impressed by their ability to express their characters through not only dialogue but also movements, facial expressions and vocal tones, all of which were sometimes done subtly and at other times exaggerated. In my honest opinion, only extremely gifted actors know how to characterize themselves in a subdued manner. Every single actor was able to do so and should be applauded for their fantastic talent.

Most of the audience enjoyed the play. Those who didn’t left the theater perplexed, but everyone else appreciated the high level of quality that was presented at the theater. Since it is a relatively serious production, it was hard not to be engrossed by the performed scenes.

A warning note, however: Those who are not used to abstract plays may not enjoy “365 Plays/365 Days” and may instead be left in a state of confusion for the full 95 minutes. However, people who do not mind abstract art will find the show extremely enjoyable and thought provoking. I highly suggest showing up early because there are very few seats, available to those who arrive first.