Hotchner Festival puts on three unique and thought-provoking plays

| Contributing Writer

Second-year Theatre and Performance Studies masters student Liv Jacobs (left) acts in the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival performance of Kent Styles, which was written by junior Zachary Stern. Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life

Front Porch Steps by Megan Gooden

Sometimes politeness and honesty are mutually exclusive. If you think about it, we hold things back from each other quite often in the name of appeasement. After watching Megan Gooden’s play, I found myself noticing this. Tawne, however, the nosy new neighbor in town, does no such thing. She believes in saying exactly what’s on her mind no matter what. Does that make her annoying? At first, yes, but then her personality rubs off on the main character. He’s the kind of guy to stay quiet as his obnoxious friend complains about how far he had to drive to come over to watch football. His girlfriend is cheating on him with that very friend. Simply put, he’s exactly the kind of person who could benefit from a proverbial slap in the face that Tawne so gleefully provides. As the play unfolds, Tawne creates an unforgettable explosion in the lives of these characters, each with distinct and memorable personalities that are nothing short of exhilarating to watch. 

 

Kent Styles by Zachery Stern

The first scene in “Kent Styles” serves as a prologue. We meet Fred and Liz, an older married couple, and their seven-year-old nephew, Kent, whom they’re adopting. We never learn what happened to his parents. Fred and Liz welcome him to his new home and ask if he wants anything to eat or drink, but he stays quiet and keeps his head down that is, until he meets his cousin, who brings him out of his shell with talk of Lego sets and incest. It quickly becomes clear there’s something meaningful here. Still, Kent has some anger in him. He seems lost, and the implication is that his biological parents are dead. Once alone, he slams his pillow. 

Cut to fifteen-ish years later. Kent looks terrible. He’s fresh out of prison, and he’s just been jumped by people he supposedly owes $75,000 to. If he doesn’t pay them back, they’ll kill him so he says. To come up with the cash, he goes to Fred and Liz, but it seems he hasn’t spoken to them in years, as the following scene reveals that Liz is fed up with her nephew after years of bearing the brunt of his delinquent behaviors. We also see, contrarily, that Fred has an ever-lasting soft spot for his nephew. Liz believes Kent is bad to the bone. Fred will never stop believing in his potential for change.  That dynamic in place, Kent, with the help of his girlfriend, Wendy, asks for 75,000 dollars from Fred. His father softly declines, citing high medical bills. Kent’s cousin his saving grace from move-in day has been in a coma for six years. After no thought at all, Kent asks his dad to pull the plug on his cousin so that they can afford to help him out. 

Given all that, I don’t think it’d be editorializing to say that “Kent Styles” asks a lot of important questions: At what point can you no longer trust someone? How does childhood trauma manifest itself in your twenties? How can you help someone who believes themself to be helpless? Can anyone really be fundamentally bad? And, when faced with the moral conundrum of choosing between a comatose son and a delinquent nephew, what is the right thing to do? On multiple occasions throughout the play, Zachary Stern brilliantly subverts the audience, providing a piece that feels both personal and enjoyable to watch. Not that I’m giving ratings here, but this was five stars.

 

Decadents Gone Wilde by J. Myles Hesse

There’s a fine line between knowing someone better than anyone else and knowing what’s best for them. Only Oscar Wilde knows what’s best for him, but we never meet him. Instead, we meet his wife, his lover and his friend – each using their relationship to the artist as a form of leverage in their own way.  The drama that ensues is gripping, with sparks of humor and desperation throughout. J. Myles Hesse accomplishes writing a period piece that feels pertinent, and it is a credit to both the writer and the actors that despite the absence of a set, I always knew exactly where the characters were, how they interacted with each other and how they felt. 

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