John Lion New Plays Festival roars with triumph

Audience seated, chattering stopped, lights out. The scene gradually appeared at the center of the stage. A longing and haunting voice chanted, hinting the beginning of this year’s John Lion New Plays Festival.

Three plays were showcased at the festival. The Circle of Death by Gwendolyn Gabrielle, Under the Moon by Murri Royal Brown, Ye Ju Choi, Hemy He, Kent Nabor, Gwendolyn Gabrielle, and Gregory Pickus, and Lifeline by Robert Ellsworth.

The Circle of Death was written by Gwendolyn Gabrielle, directed by Chris Anthony, and performed by Nina Walker, David Gomez, Stephanie Gutierrez, Jason Foster, Cassandra Britton, Danielle Lee, and Ashley Nnebe. It took place throughout space and time, at a hospital room and a graveyard, in between life and death.

“I’ve always loved the science fiction and fantasy genres,” said playwright Gabrielle. “But they don’t really occur often in theatre, so I wanted to try bringing them to the stage.”

Gabrielle also expressed that she really likes cemeteries.

Under the Moon was a devised play – a collaboratively-created form of theatre where the text is generated from an ensemble working through research, imagery, improvisation, and writing on their own. The scene, masks, props, and puppetry were all handmade by the cast themselves – Murri Royal Brown, Ye Ju Choi, Hemy He, Kent Nabor, Gwendolyn Gabrielle, and Alberto Valdez. Their creative use of black light, projector, and onstage sound effects took the audience into another realm, following the characters throughout their surreal journey.

The setup of the Intimate Theatre at Luckman allowed the audience to be very close to the stage, making the experience even more intense on top of the cast’s excellent performance.

Under the Moon was easily my favorite,” said Gregory Langner, graduate student and Communication major. “It was captivating, mesmerizing, and sensational. It is a fantastic example of the power of theatre to at once project imagery of the fantastical while moving both the hearts and minds of its audience.”

Lifeline was written by Robert Ellsworth, directed by Randee Tabitz, and performed by Marissa Pitts, Josue Fraticelli, Domingo Ramirez, Edward Rosales, and Brianna Sandoval. It took place at the office of a health center in West Hollywood, where two trainees volunteered for a suicide hotline.

The storyline of this play was especially intriguing. It perfectly blended fear and anxiety with humor, creating an emotional rollercoaster surrounding the topic of suicide.

“I actually had three very close people in my life who took their own lives, so all three of them were my inspiration,” Playwright Ellsworth explained in regards to the origin of his play. “And I volunteered at a suicide hotline in West Hollywood after the second person took his life. When I was there, I was surprised that [the program] wasn’t well-rounded and it freaked me out that they basically let anyone help these people whose life were at stake.”

Ellsworth continued on when asked if Lifeline was solely about suicide, “it is what the play is based on, but [the story] is about how people living in Los Angeles are just trying to connect. Life is worth living and it is a struggle. When you feel the lowest and wonder what your purpose in life is, you should never give up and choose suicide. Because you will damage the people you love the most.”

Josue Fraticelli played the male lead in this play and truly made his character come alive. “As an actor, I was able to use a certain charm and wit that comes with playing Carlos,” Fraticelli said. “I had to fight with certain inner demons in order to bring Carlos to life on stage. At the end of the day, we all want something or someone to connect to.”

The playwrights, the directors, the cast, and the production team all showcased great talent and they have done a phenomenal job at the premiere of this year’s John Lion New Plays Festival.

The John Lion New Plays Festival is a tradition running for a nearly two decades and has produced over 60 student plays. The festival inherits its name from the former producing director of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival in recognition of Lion’s achievements in theatre and education.

If you haven’t seen any of the plays yet, make sure you don’t miss it this week. General admission is $15, and $10 for students and seniors.

The festival premiered on Friday, May 13, and it will continue its showcase at the Intimate Theatre in the Luckman on May 14, May 18- 21 at 7:30 P.M., and May 15 at 2:30 P.M.

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