To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Quickies’ 2020: the good, the bad and a shelf

The Undergraduate Theater Collective’s (UTC) annual festival “Quickies” showcased nine student-written short plays on Sunday, Feb. 9. Per tradition, all shows were written, directed, produced and performed by Brandeis students. Some of the shows were funny, some serious, but all were entertaining nonetheless. No short play was perfect, but they all showcased the creative talent of Brandeis.

The first quickie, “Hindsight,” was written by Seth Wulf ’21 and directed by Amber Crossman ’21. The sketch involves a mystery about a stolen necklace and the two investigators trying to figure out who took it. What made this first play hilarious was how the investigators rewound the scene where the necklace is stolen. Every time one of the investigators would rewind the scene, the actors on the stage would rewind their position in the scene and reveal new information each time. While this unique premise was quite funny to watch, and each short play was less than ten minutes, it took a while to get to the main joke of the play. But overall, “Hindsight” was a great opener and really got the audience laughing.

The second Quickie, “He’ll Know What it Means,” by Zack Garrity ’20 and directed by Alex Ross ’22 had a similar problem to “Hindsight.” While it began on a strong note, it dragged and took a little too long to get to the punchline. The comedic short play is framed as a memorial service for a family member who has died, with the speaker, played by Meg Rock ’23, telling us the story of how it happened. Apparently the speaker was told to relay strange, but increasingly threatening, messages to the recently deceased by a loan shark of some kind. While the eventual punchline of the short play lands, the build-up gets a bit tedious and repetitive. However, an excellent and energetic performance by Rock circumvents this flaw, and her impressive and hilarious character was the highlight of this Quickie.  

For the third play, writer and director Zach Katz ’22 created a comedic sketch relatable to every college student in “Paper, Unwritten.” It follows an average college student, portrayed by Esther Shimkin ’22, as she procrastinates. The undeniably relatable subject matter combined with Shimkin’s excellent performance make “Paper, Unwritten” a joy to watch. It avoids the issues of the previous two sketches by having constant comedic distractions for the college student. Ranging from a call with their mother to an impromptu game of laser tag, these distractions culminate in an astounding punchline: an unexpected extension.

The fourth short play took a melancholy look at lost love. “I and Love and You,” written and directed by Batsheva Moskowitz ’21, starts out with a meet-cute between a couple, portrayed by Evan Shapiro ’22 and Kat Lawrence ’22, on a train. However, the play takes a turn when a voiceover reveals that this romance did not actually occur. Instead, Lawrence’s character repeatedly rejects her romantic interest’s advances. Shapiro plays his character not as a creep who can’t take no for an answer, but as a genuinely kind person trying his best to get Lawrence’s character to open up. But after repeated rejections, he eventually moves on, leaving Lawrence’s character, who begins to develop feelings for him, completely alone. Following three comedic sketches, “I and Love and You” was a sad story about missing out love by refusing to let someone in. It pulled at the heartstrings and was undeniably the best written short play of the night.

Returning to a comedic tone, “A Night on the Job,” written by Rebecca Goldfarb ’21 and directed by Rachel Lese ’21, follows a recently divorced Uber driver, played by Harrison Carter ’22, as he deals with various passengers and his own emotional trauma. Carter’s performance was absolutely hilarious as every situation eventually devolved into him crying and shouting vivid details of how his wife cheated on him. His interactions with his various passengers were also funny, but it’s Carter’s outbursts that really sell the show. It also ends on a cheery note with the divorced Uber driver finding a new chance at love.

The strangest, but somehow the most hilarious short play of the evening was “Ikea Shelf,” written and directed by Molly Rocca ’20. However, I am not entirely sure if the play counts as a play because it consists solely of writer/director/star Rocca building a Ikea shelf live on stage. Why did this happen? Why was it so funny? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is I could not stop laughing as Rocca put together an Ikea shelf and Becca Lozinsky ’20 read the directions to the audience. Sometimes you don’t need a long narrative or a quick punchline to make a fantastic short play. Sometimes, all you need is a shelf.

The seventh short play diverged from the comedic sketches and presented a dramatic look at how we view strangers. “Inconveniences,” written and directed by Shoshi Finkel ’20, takes place on a subway where people from all walks of life are forced to be in close proximity to each other. Increasing delays mirror the increasing tension in cramped space, as small inconveniences quickly evolve into violent altercations and heated arguments. The play also ends on a sad note where a woman, played by Rock, who was trying to raise money is forced to leave after a fight with an abrasive passenger. In complete contrast to her earlier performance, Rock shifts seamlessly from comedy to tragedy. Her clear desperation in begging for money to get her kids back from her ex-husband was tear-jerking, while the apparent indifference from her fellow passengers felt hauntingly accurate. 

While each show had its own strengths and weaknesses, “A Staircase Full of Trash” really struggled. The short play seemed to be a situational comedy, but I had neither the context nor the patience to try to decipher the dialogue. The mess of a play ended with the statement: “This would make a good Quickie.” I found out afterwards that the anonymously written play was based on real events, and maybe I would get the jokes if I knew the people it was based on. Here’s the problem: I don’t. “A Staircase Full of Trash” is an inside joke, written not for the audience, but for the select few who contributed to its creation. 

After 10 minutes of watching a joke I did not get, I was relieved when the final short play ended on a strong note and hearty laugh. Written by Nate Rtishchev ’21 and directed by Xinbei Lin ’21, “Elvises are in the Building” is about a dating show gone wrong when all the potential dates turn out to be Elvis impersonators. Culminating in a contestant running off with the somehow-alive David Bowie and concluding with a fourth wall-breaking rant about the futility of life as if it were already predetermined by an uncaring, all-powerful writer and director, the short play devolved into utter madness and the audience devolved into uproarious laughter.

Overall, Quickies 2020 was a huge success. With great performances, excellent writing and an immaculate shelf, the UTC and just about everyone involved should be proud of their great work.

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