By Brittany Aufiero
“Miracle in the Garden” by James Egbuta-Bailey and “Numinous” by Faith D’Erasmo and Luke Iovenitti stunned audiences with their attention to detail, compelling dialogue and powerful acting. Directed by Adjunct Lecturer Stephanie Stowe, these two new student productions were showcased by Lehman’s Department of Music, Multimedia, Theatre & Dance in its fifth annual Student Playwriting Festival, which premiered from Feb. 27 to March 2.
“As a playwright with 20 years of experience producing work, it’s exciting to see young playwrights understand and learn the process of bringing a play to an audience,” said Stowe, who has been involved with the festival for three consecutive years. Stowe credits Associate Professor and theatre director Rick DesRochers and Dean of Arts and Humanities James Mahon for “their incredible support.” She said of her directing, “It was a lot of fun! Always a challenge because they’re very different pieces.”
The festival opened with “Miracle in the Garden,” a moving one-act play that is centered on an African-American family living in 1978 Harlem, NY. Unable to afford the rising prices of city-living, Rose has decided to move her and her children Bobby, Shelley and Miracle back to Montgomery County, TN. However, the children are less than thrilled about the impending move. While Bobby considers his college options in NY, his sister Shelley is hiding a life-changing secret. As she packs, Rose must come to terms with her children’s growing independence and confront secrets of her own past that threaten to change all of their lives.
In the musical “Numinous,” a class revolution has fractured communities and led many to take refuge in the northern wilderness. The portion of the play featured in the festival is only Act I of a full-length production that will premiere in Lehman’s Multimedia Performing Arts Showcase in May. The story follows Flick, Mae, Nox, Cato, Jove and Ada, a group of travelers who meet in the woods and agree to form a “tribe” to better their chances of survival away from the rest of society. Members of the group begin to form closer ties as they bond through song, but tensions rise when Nox’s leadership comes into question following an unexpected storm.
Just as it allows new playwrights to get a feel for show business, the festival is also a fantastic opportunity for Lehman actors to gain onstage experience. “Miracle” cast member Essence Walker, a 21-year-old junior theater major and dance minor, said “Rehearsals were always fun and, because it was an original play, we really got the chance to dig into the characters and tell their stories.”
While the two plays are dramatically different in plot and production, both Rose and Nox deal with similar internal conflicts, as they try to balance their own wants with those of the people for whom they are responsible. Lehman’s student actors really fulfill their roles and perform admirably. In particular, Alaynia “Fox” La Porte shines as Rose, and one can’t help but sympathize with her character’s desire to keep her family together, even as she pushes everyone further apart.
A junior pursuing a Media Performing Arts degree with a major in theatre, Alaynia has also held roles at Castillo Theatre, Dempsey Theater, the Baryshnikov Art Center and Lovinger Theatre. In preparing for her latest role, she said, “Research was my best friend! As ‘Miracle in the Garden’ is a ‘70s play, I wanted to be honest to the world my character was in.”
Kat Fornier, a 22-year-old junior art major and psychology minor, said “I really enjoyed the use of space in each of the plays.” In “Miracle,” moving boxes litter the stage and the actors are constantly interacting with them, which is enjoyable to watch. Various platforms both onstage and within the audience during “Numinous” serve as stands for the cast to speak from during various moments throughout the play.
The Student Playwriting Festival was a huge success for everyone involved in translating the plays from page-to-stage. “Opening day, my heart was beating so fast because I was so nervous,” Walker recalled. “The adrenaline was high and we had a full house. It was the best thing ever.”