Just outside of the main gates of Georgetown University lies Poulton Hall, and nestled inside that is a small, dark theater. The size of the theater does not match the soaring ambitions of the students set to perform on its stage for the Donn B. Murphy One Acts Festival.
The festival is a showcase for original student works, and is put on by the Georgetown University Mask and Bauble Society. The process begins with a script contest, where students submit scripts and the winner is chosen as the first piece for the festival. This year, the chosen piece was “Peaches and Freon: A Musical,” written by Georgetown seniors Ryan Dull and Michael Franch with music by George Washington University junior Andrew Pendergrast. According to Franch, the musical started as a simple joke.
“We were joking about hilarious moments in musical theater that we all know and love,” Franch said. “We came up with a song about stationary trees; it was completely stupid, but people began to ask what musical it was from, that they had looked it up on YouTube but couldn’t find it. After that, we thought we might as well try it.”
“Peaches and Freon” follows the playwriting duo of David (Greg Brew) and Moonglow (Adrian Prado) as an MC (Betsy Helmer) presents a “greatest hits” presentation of their greatest musicals, which include “The Burnham Wood” (which features stationary trees,) “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster” and “Abortion Contortion: A Pre-Natal Murder Mystery.” According to Franch, it was difficult to come up with a plot and characters based around a joke.
“The songs don’t push the plot because they’re joke songs,” Franch said. “In order to fit the characters around this problem, we made them obvious and sympathetic. But, given that it is the first play he’s written, Franch said the experience was smooth.
“As we were writing it, it gelled a lot faster than we thought it would,” he said.
The second play, “#Courage,” written and directed by Georgetown junior Swedian Lie, is a much more dramatic and serious affair. According to festival producer Liz Robbins, this juxtaposition was deliberate.
“We wanted to give the full theater experience from one spectrum to the other,” Robbins said.
“#Courage” is a more existential reflection on the Arab Spring, specifically the Egyptian Revolution, and the role that social media continues to play in revolutions around the world. The play begins with a conversation between Facebook (Victoria Glock-Molloy) and Twitter (Katie Mitchell) and weaves through a dramatization of the real-life murder of Kaled Said (Jack Schmitt) and the social revolution it spurred with the help of social media. According to Lie, the play’s complex social themes were rooted in the strength of the individual.
“Facebook and Twitter are tools,” Lie said, “but people have to use them. The real focus is on the human spirit.”
When the lights went up after the first-ever showing of these student works, Dull and Franch, who had never seen their worked performed or even rehearsed, sat in their seats, taking it all in.
“This is absolutely surreal,” Dull said. “This is our first time seeing our material performed. The only emotion we felt is ‘wow, this doesn’t suck.’ I’m absurdly happy with it all.”
Although Lie was more directly involved with his play, he was also pleased to see his creation go off without a hitch in front of an audience.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lie said. “I have some experience with adaptations, but this is my first original work.”
Now in its 160th season, the society is touted as the oldest continually-running student theater troupe in the U.S. Philip Tam, the publicity director for the festival, attributes this longevity to the actors.
“I really think we owe it all to the dedication of the actors,” Tam said. “They really love what they do.”
The Donn B. Murphy One Act Festival runs through Saturday Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. General tickets are $7 or $5 for students.