A few weeks ago, I was voluntold to write a review for “Ferguson’s Fines” by my good friend and Hoot arts editor Naomi Stephenson ’26. A chance run in with her later then somehow signed me up to also watch and review “Are We There Yet.” After that, I watched Liquid Latex’s “Naked And Unfraid.” As I watched art and colors and people dance in front of me, inspiration struck. After I finished my thesis quartet with “A Cinderella Story” and “A New Play,” I stumbled upon the Comedy Bunch. At last, the weekend reached its end with Acapalooza and “Murder’s in the Heir.” Over the course of four days (Brandeis performance weekends tend to start on Thursday due to Shabbat), there had been eight shows with 19 altogether performances at Brandeis. Here are my thoughts on all of them.
“Ferguson’s Fines” by Alaysia Penso ’23
Ferguson’s Fines is a masterpiece. I left the theater speechless and still can’t find any better words which fully encapsulate this play. The scenes were devastatingly full of life. The audience watched the show as they lived it. The production couldn’t be contained in a single theater. Any of these may be more clever or poignant, but none of them can capture the entirety of this piece like “masterpiece” can.
The show opens on a funeral. Themis (Penso) gives a eulogy for an unknown person as her friends Quincy aka Q (Thabang Matona ’24) and Michael (Richard Impert Jr. ’24) accompany her. The scene shifts and we learn that Themis has been attempting to write an article on police brutality within their community. Amid a warning from an unknown person (Nicholas Kanan ’23) and troubles getting people to come forward with their stories, she struggles to complete her article. During the play, we see Q harassed by a police officer (Kanan) which leads to Themis advancing her article. Because of the article, she is sexually assaulted by a police officer. When trying to go over to comfort her, Q is murdered by a police officer on Themis’ doorstep. As the community mourns Q, Themis receives support to write her article and Michael leads a protest which gets him arrested. Themis gets him released and we are returned to the initial funeral scene, now with Q only standing with the other two in memory. The show was followed by a discussion in the Merrick Theater about the show accompanied by the display of half finished portraits of victims of police brutality.
One of the things that struck me most about this show was how full it was of life and love. The bond between Themis, Q and Michael is clear from their first scenes. Despite the matter of the show, their relationships are well written and executed in a way that makes the audience feel a sense of humanity and character that makes these people seem like fully rounded people. Whether on a basketball court or in a jail, the characters are able to find some joke or memory that proves their connection to each other and to their identities as fully formed people within the play. I fully believed the friendships I saw on the stage, through the good and the bad. This show gives you the most intimate possible perspective into who these people were beyond just how their identity impacts them. Kanan’s characters also feel like they’re just a small part of distinct people’s life. In a world where so much of what we see about police brutality is through our screens, these actors brought real people and real experiences to life in a way that is unique to live theater.
One of the most surprising things about this production’s execution was the multi-medium format. Though the show is mainly performed as a traditional play, there are three notable instances which broke the mold to great impact. The first was in the scene in which Themis was assaulted. This is presented as a projected video with Penso herself standing to the side with a spotlight as she reacts to the video we see. While the video is covered for more graphic moments, Penso’s presence forces the audience to view what is being shown in the human context that is too often removed from videos. This presents perspectives on what is happening, from the removed view we are used to seeing to truly seeing these people as the people they are. In one of my favorite scenes of the show, Michael leads a protest. As the house lights went up and he began to shout the start of protest chants, the audience was forced to break the silence and participate in his demonstration. The moments before everyone joined, where Impert was chanting by himself, stayed with me. By including the audience in this show, I was forced to look at how I interact with stories such as these. Why do I hesitate to join in? How can I not be a bystander? What will I do now that I’ve seen this play? These questions aren’t new ones, but this work stays as a reminder that staying silent is not an option.
The final part of both this review and the show was the discussion panel. After the play, we were escorted into the Merrick by the actors. The space was decorated with a curtain of fairy lights and the portraits I described earlier. There was also a piece of paper attached to a board. Penso encouraged everyone to spend time with the portraits and a few questions and to write something on the board. When we shared our answers, it was invigorating to hear people’s perspectives on the play and issues we’d just seen. After a play that left me in silence, it was wonderful to have a space for reflection. A work three years in the making, “Ferguson’s Fines” was unmissable.
“Are We There Yet” by Evelyn Inker ’23
My knowledge of this show going in was very limited. My initial impression, the preshow, was a bewildering collection of moments. My walk to the Laurie Theater included mentions of “The Little Prince,” live music and graphic antisemitism without clear intention behind each part. The rest of the show followed suit.
In this play, a girl (Leila Haller ’25) learns her family’s history through the lens of “The Little Prince,” starting from Germany in 1944. We follow a past relative, represented by the Little Prince (Eli Mones ’25), as he struggles to escape the Nazi regime and connect with his beloved Rose (Abby Tang ’26). Throughout this, the show includes Jewish songs and poetry for emphasis. As the plot progresses, we see how the family escapes Soviet persecution to build a life in the United States and the show ends on a note of life and love despite all.
Overall, this show seemed confused with itself. The story integrates media in a way that often doesn’t feel cohesive. The story we are presented with through “The Little Prince” was more tangentially related rather than a clear parallel. The show did gymnastics around itself trying to connect the story to this family’s history. In addition, the inclusion of other pieces of media such as songs and poems detracted from the cohesiveness of the story being told. For instance, there is a moment where a character in a concentration camp reads out a poem about being in a ghetto. Later, a Nazi (Chris Martin ’24) sings If You Could See Her, a sentimentally unclear choice of song. The show makes multiple attempts to satirize antisemitism—a feat which is always a tightrope walk—using outside media and it never quite sits right. In this instance, though it was very well performed, the entire song seemed chosen for the line at the end. The addition of pieces like these didn’t add to the original work of the show and the impression I got was that this show wanted to include all of these moments and couldn’t bear to cut them. The result was that individual moments and themes felt unincorporated into the story as a whole.
This show really shined in its directing. The show takes full advantage of the space it’s in, including the Spingold hallways and Laurie stairwells in order to fully immerse the audience in the world. The staging of intense moments was intensified by actors running to the farthest reaches of the theater and accentuated the moments that were small but intimate. The actors had a solid grasp on movement. My favorite scene was a montage in which we see the family shuffled through life after the Holocaust into getting married and eventually having to flee the USSR. Tang and Mones have clear chemistry throughout the show which was evident in many of the scenes. As a whole, the play felt most itself and free when it was original in its blocking, looks and words. The final scene, in which the family gathers to light Chanukah candles, finally gives the watcher the feeling of resilience which the show’s characters grappled to find the entire time. Despite itself, “Are We There Yet” seemed to get there by the end.
“A New Play” by Jess Umanoff ’23
This play really surprised me. I had heard actors would be holding scripts, that it was shorter than the rest of the theses, and that there had been quite a few last minute changes. The show I saw was a complete show exploring the experiences and expectations placed on victims of sexual assault. Lily (Esther Daube-Valois ’23) is put into awkward encounters and has her boundaries pushed further as voices in her head (Liam Delaney ’26 and Danielle Castillo) bicker and force further turmoil within her. Rose (Umanoff) serves as a source of connection and misunderstanding as Lily tries to navigate life after her assault. After a whole play of telling her what to do, the tension resolves itself as Rose comforts and supports Lily among the judgement and pressure from everyone else around her. Overall, this was a really great show. I really enjoyed Delaney and Castillo’s representations of how society views survivors with Delaney’s voice preferring they stay silent and Castillo’s insisting that they act perfectly and do everything they could do in the situation, no matter the further trauma. Daube-Valois herself gives a powerful performance and fully embodies the role. Her vulnerability as the world keeps moving around her was devastating, and the play fully earns the sweet note it ended on.
“Liquid Latex: Naked And Unafraid” (Various Artists)
A Brandeis staple, this was a great balance of art, spectacle and fun. Liquid Latex is a group that promotes positivity, acceptance and desexualization for bodies through an annual dance show. Throughout the night, I saw multiple showcases of people in nothing but some underpants and liquid latex paint as they celebrated the artistry that went into the show. While it was entertaining and a buttload of fun, I’m not sure it accomplished its goal of advancing body neutrality. The hosts’ main gag was them being covered up and claiming that they would reveal their paint soon, which they never did. Further, the closing number before bows was a dubiously un-sexual Magic Mike parody. My favorite collection was “Plastic Golden Frames” by Ayşe Erbaş ’23, which featured famous works of art. Overall, the show was an excellent tribute to the beauty and versatility of the human canvas and I can’t wait to see next year’s show.
Murder’s In The Heir (Dir. Nicole Albright ’25)
A murder mystery with a twist, this show hit and missed quite a few marks. In this play, a trillionaire is found murdered after revealing his intentions to cut all of his current heirs out of his will and his grandson hires a private investigator to solve his murder. The show mainly suffers from its script. Though inventive in allowing the audience to vote on the murderer during intermission, a few jokes in the show were off color and the structure of the second act was repetitive with every single character giving their testimony of what happened on the night of the murder. The script didn’t seem to be held in high esteem by the cast, with multiple digs at the author that I’m not entirely sure were scripted and a few actors inserting ad-libs and character breaks into their performances. On the night I went, Mr. Trent (Rowan Scasselleti ’26) was the murderer, and he did a great job with the monologues that the role presented. My favorite performances of the night were both Simon Starkweathers (Connor Papantony ’26) and Mike Davis (Isaiah Hill ’26). Mike was an intrepid detective who solved the mystery while Connor played the murder victim in question and then, in the second act, his grandson. Both of these actors were onstage for a good bit of the first act and all of the second act, but were able to keep their performances interesting and lively through it all. They captured attention in their moments and gags while still being able to take a step back to let the other people in their scenes shine. They blended perfectly into the world of the play and I’m excited to see what comes next from each of them. A lively night of inheritance and scheming, “Murder’s In The Heir” was thoroughly entertaining.
Comedy Bunch (Various artists)
Presented by all of the improv groups at Brandeis plus Boris’ kitchen sketch comedy, I spent one of my evenings being given massive flashbacks to high school improv club by the Comedy Bunch. This was a fun showcase of improv and comedy skills as various improv members teamed up to play games and make jokes. I really enjoyed Boris’ Kitchen’s Little Man In The Microwave sketch as well as the improvised musical about sleep demons. The amount of musical talent from the keyboard player and the vocalists was really awesome to see come together. The performances were fast paced and used the space well, always giving the audience some new bit to hold onto. The performers incorporated audience suggestions with creativity to hilarious results. Overall, this is one that I’m very glad I dragged my friends to, and it was a great introduction to the comedy groups on campus. This collaborative performance demonstrated the power comedy has to connect us to others.
In the name of not being biased, I can’t fairly review Caylie Jeruchimowitz ’23’s “Another Cinderella Story” or Acappalooza because of my personal relationships and involvement. While I thought both of these shows were great, I was literally in Acappalooza of them so my word isn’t worth much.
Opinions Editor Jamie Trope and Social Media Editor Cyrenity Augustin were not involved in the writing of this article.