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Drugs and Life Lessons on Stage

New play discusses what it means to be young and alive while exploring the adventures of a loner protagonist.

Fred Stone’s first show of the semester opened Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., and continues on until Feb. 23. All New People is the story of a heartbroken young man from New Jersey, Charlie Bloom, who just cannot deal with reality anymore and, in the middle of the winter, decides to retreat to his summer beach house. He is relishing in his solitude when a slew of visitors interrupt him trying to attain his peace of mind. The motley crew of a hired lover, the local fireman, and an eccentric British real estate agent all become entangled within the beach house, where the mood is anything but sunny. Olivia Matthews ‘15 serves as stage manger and the cast includes Peter Ruiz ‘15, Alexios Venieris ‘15, Samantha Frontera ‘14, and Jamaica Reddick ‘14.

Because it is a second stage show, admission will be free to everyone. That means that the production is completely student directed, in this instance by Somar Lanh ‘14 for her capstone credit. All New People, in Lanh’s words is: “A lively, dark comedy by Scrubs star Zach Braff on what it is to be young and alive.” I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with Lahn. This is what she had to say about her experience in theatre and also with this show in particular.

Mariano: You have most likely directed minor scenes in your theatre classes before—was this your first time directing a full-length production?

Lahn: I directed my first full-length production, Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire when I was 18 in my senior year of high school. The venue was called Silver Meteor Gallery in Tampa. It was literally an old house from the 70s that had been converted into a black box theatre by the railroad tracks. Literally.

So the Fred, in all its glory, is an incredible space to work in. Prior to that, I had never seen myself as director, but after that production I was hooked. I continued to produce and direct a few shows with my friends during my summers home in Tampa.

M: Being a student director, what difficulties did you run into? Were there any points where you had to turn to faculty for help?

L: Probably the most difficult thing was blocking the show in a thrust (the audience surrounds the stage on three sides), as well as figuring out how to stage drugs in a safe and realistic way, especially when the audience is less than three feet from you. Theatre Professor Eric Zivot was awesome enough to have weekly coaching sessions with one of our actors on her British dialect. He even came in to rehearsal one night and showed us how to “stage” snort cocaine.

M: What was the atmosphere like, with all students working collaboratively to bring this play to life?

L: What’s it like when you’re given permission to have fun all the time? When the cast and crew are just as excited to tell this story, it never feels like work. The designers and crew are all incredibly creative and proactive. The cast is fearless and make big, hilarious choices. You don’t get this kind of atmosphere with just any play.

M: What are you most looking forward to the audience getting to see?

L: Oh man. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say there are lots of fun surprises. But the designers did a fabulous job creating the world of this play. So I’m definitely excited for the audience to experience that.

M: Are you the one who chose this play? What drew you to it? (Personally, I am a pretty big fan of Zach Braff.)

L: I chose this play with the help of the department’s student play selection committee, but I advocated for All New People from the start. Braff’s writing made me laugh out loud, but could also make me think. And honestly, that’s a dime a dozen within contemporary theatre. The Fred is renowned for being home to challenging, edgier work that leans towards the darker, angstier side or has heightened, ethereal language. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But I wanted a play that would resonate with our audiences, specifically the college student demographic. There’s something about comedy, even dark comedy, that clearly communicates the more guttural, honest moments of the human condition. Comedy’s like the sugar that makes the medicine go down. Plus, if you love the Garden State, you’ll love this play.

M: In your opinion, what is it like to be young and alive?

L: To be entitled and miserable for whatever reason, and to somehow believe this phase of your life will never pass. To want everything beyond you, but not acknowledge the gifts that you have in front of you.

M: And finally, what was the best thing about getting to direct this production?

L: Laughing every day with my cast and crew. Finding the love and light, even in the play’s darker moments.  And probably staging a scene about buttholes. That’s all I will say.

Lanh was lovely to speak with; her enthusiasm for her production is evident in each of her answers, and it is sure to be a worthwhile experience. Being in a black box theatre, the chance to truly connect with the play will be literally right in front of your faces. Do not be afraid to grab onto it. That is what theatre is all about, after all.

If my words have not convinced you, then simply ponder Lahn’s favorite line from the play: “Oh my God, we’ve won a prostitute.”

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