After three weeks of performances, Theater Emory’s biennial play festival, Brave New Works, kicked off its final weekend with two new plays written by Emory students. The festival celebrates playwriting in the Emory community and showcases the works that students, faculty and others have prepared and edited since last September. The plays, both of which were read aloud rather than acted, attracted about 70 people to the intimate black box theater of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the plays performed on Feb.14 dealt with the trials of affection, love and care.
Julia Byrne’s (20C) play, “Day,” features her struggles with the theme of the night: love. Tied into the reading was Byrne’s passion for classical mythology, which often harnesses the ability of love to transcend boundaries. The set design was minimalistic, with four music stands placed strategically around the stage in addition to two peaches and a cup for the actors to use for effect.
Once the actors entered stage right, they propped their scripts on the stands and stared out into the audience as the play’s narrative voice began. “Day” opens with the god Anteros (Willis Hao (180x, 20C)) and his mother Kestra (professional actor Olivia Dawson), as they discuss the quest upon which Anteros must embark to keep peace in the mortal world. The quest, ordered by his mother, requires that he kill and deliver a human sacrifice to her, offered to them by the mortals. Midway through the first act, Anteros meets the mortal woman Jane (Willa Barnett (23C)), the woman he is set to kill. Anteros accidentally injects himself with his own love serum and subsequently falls in love with Jane, thus beginning their journey of forbidden love and mutual struggle.
Since the play was performed in reading, all movements were described by the narrator, who also voiced each characters’ thoughts and emotions. And due to its complicated plot, the play itself was a compelling work of art made mysterious by the lack of dynamism and acting onstage. The performers only made small movements such as facial expressions and brief hand gestures throughout the show. Instead of becoming engrossed in the movements of the actors, the audience was focused solely on the text which allowed the viewers to dissociate the actors from the script and see them as tangible characters. Everything written and read aloud by the narrator is integral to understanding the nuances of “Day” and enhances the viewers’ experiences by describing what they cannot see.
Still, the actions narrated throughout the play were not the only elements left up for the audience’s interpretation. Though the setting was difficult to imagine at times, the simplicity of the theater challenged the audience to visualize their own version of the world in which the play took place. The script provided an outline of what the audience might envision, but the blank canvas of the stage forced viewers to use their imagination to create a world that intertwined mythology with the modern day.
Despite its unconventional delivery, “Day” was an engaging and bold performance that redefined traditional notions of theater and acting. The focus of the play relied not on lighting, setting decor or sound haptics, but rather the voices of the cast. To some, this style may seem unimaginative and boring, but “Day” showed how a play stripped down to its core can still evoke the same emotions from the audience. Byrne’s play enabled the audience to imagine, to listen and to love, just in time for Valentine’s Day.