Playfest 2019: Elements Review


Will Mahan, Scarlet Staff

When Aristotle first outlined his six elements of drama, he intended to create a road map for future playwrights to create their own stories. What he most likely did not anticipate is the way in which his road map could be used. In Luke Pound’s original play “Elements”, conventional theatrical wisdom is seemingly turned upside down, stretched and twisted, and then with grand bravado, blown apart to smithereens. Directed by Kim Carrell, “Elements” takes each of Aristotle’s six elements of theatre: character, plot, idea, diction, music, and spectacle, and creates a vast show revolving around the theory of theatre itself. The show itself is split into six short plays, each of which revolves around an element of theatre.

The first short play is “Character”. The play starts with a man named Milo, played by Henry Hutcheson, reading a monologue from William Shakespeare’s “All The World A Stage.” Within mere moments, we are then introduced to the man’s significant other, played by Ilse McCormick. The scene quickly establishes all the audience needs to know about the pair’s relationship, then moving onto other characters, including two men, played by Liam Stewart and Nick Sturman respectively. 

The story primarily revolves around Milo, as he slowly realizes he is in a play. The clues get introduced subtly to Milo and the audience, first by Milo’s realization that everyone around him is speaking theatrically, and later by feeling prying eyes seemingly fixed upon him. Later, as the other characters leave the scene, Milo breaks the fourth wall of the show, and begins interacting with the audience. A lot of the best humor of the production is introduced during this. 

However, soon enough the play spirals into a more serious tone, as Milo begins to wonder what his purpose is in this world. Milo breaks out of character, becoming frustrated with the purpose of his existence, as he confronts the writer of his show. Stewart and Sturman then reintroduce themselves, as the thoughts of the writer. The interaction puts a lot of weight upon Milo, realizing that there is no grand destiny waiting for him in this story.

As the show starts to wrap up, Milo finally concludes that he knows who he is. However he also notes that we as the audience, only know what the writer chooses to show us. This opening short play is driven by a lot of strong performances, but primarily by Hutcheson’s charismatic and curious performance as Milo. 

The second short play is “Plot.” The play starts with two women, played by Erin Frizzell and Emma Couliard, playing a simple game of chess. Immediately, the two characters realize they are in a play. In order to avoid retreading “Character”, Luke Pound makes “Plot” revolve less around one character’s search for purpose, and more around the two womens’ relationship. This show demonstrates how two characters’ relationship alone, can tell a story. 

The two characters start by exploring the boundaries of the world they are confined to. They learn that there are no boundaries, as Frizzell’s character can openly swear, and Couliard’s character is immune to being shot. The two characters learn that because they are in a play, there are now boundaries of how they can act or what they can do. They both learn that the rules of the real world do not apply to a world of theatrics. Both actresses then start to debate whether their chess game is important to the plot of the play they are in. They also discuss whether they should make their performances revolve around something they consider to be more interesting. 

In an attempt to further explore the play that they are in, Couliard’s character knocks the chess game off of the table. This infuriates Frizell’s character, and drives further conflict between the two characters. As the situation escalates, and Frizzell’s character pulls out a gun. Reluctant to shoot she walks away, but not before Couliard’s character takes the gun from her, and shoots herself with it. As she lies on the floor, seemingly dead, Frizzell’s character rushes over to her. She soon realizes that Couliard’s character is not dead, but instead is acting dead. She then learns that the only rules in a story, are the rules that the writer applies to that story. 

The two then come to terms with one another. They then pick the chess pieces off of the ground, and leave, collectively deciding that the show should be over. This signifies how a show ends when the characters’ finish their story, whatever that might be. In this short play, Frizzell and Couliard show a knack for comedy and sarcasm that gives the show energy and momentum.

The third short play,“IDEA,” focuses mainly on plot and less on character. This draws a distinct contract to the previous two short plays, “Character” and “Plot” which focused heavily on character development and establishment to flesh out their stories. “IDEA” features every cast member of “Elements.” This makes for a big ensemble, but Pound’s concise writing gives each character their moment to shine, while also conveying a broader message to the audience. 

“IDEA” has the six actors represent disconnected thoughts of a writer trying to work together to tell a cohesive story, but failing to convey a unified message. They quickly learn that direction is needed, and rely on Hutchenson’s character for finding a unified vision. By focusing on one thought, they all tell a cohesive story. Unfortunately however, at the end of the story neither they nor the audience know who, or what the story was about. 

This short play was by far the most challenging of the six, and also the most theoretical. It stands to be said that the actors and actresses, all brought challenging poetic lines to life. A testament should also be made to Pound’s desire to take risks in his writing. It is very impressive that this short play manages to successfully express itself.

The fourth short play is “Diction,” by far the best short play in “Elements.” With a lot of energy, “Diction” begins with two characters bumping into each other, and getting into an argument. The plot twist is that both of them are speaking in a made up language. Therefore, none of the audience members know what the two characters are fighting over. Credit must be given to the two actors of this show, Stewart and Sturman. Both take dialogue that they do not know the English translation of, and manage to craft it into an engaging performance. The situation quickly escalates, as Stewart’s character pulls a knife on Sturman’s character and threatens him with it. The entire short play relies solely upon how the two characters deliver their dialogue, rather than than the actual words.

Closer to the end of the play, the characters both realize they speak English, and stop fighting.  One of the best parts of this transition into English dialogue is how Pound pokes fun at the absurdity of the situation, and doubles down on the natural humor of the scenario. The characters then reveal to the audience that they did not know what they were talking about, and they were just making up gibberish as they were speaking. This demonstrates the impact that specific words can have on a situation. The short play ends with both characters parting ways. This show subverts the audience’s expectations in the best way possible, while creatively telling an old message: the way words are delivered determines their meaning.

The fifth short play,“Music,” starts with a girl, played by Couliard, playing the piano elegantly. Within mere moments, the girl’s mother, played by McMorick, enters the room and introduces the girl to a rhythm coach, played by Frizzell. The mother and the rhythm coach quickly bicker over the success that the rhythm coach has seen within her own life, as the girl’s father enters the room. The girl’s father, played by Hutcheson, quickly turns the conversation to training his daughter in the art of ballet meter. 

An important factor of the show, is the distinct way in which each character delivers their lines. The mother and rhythmic coach speak in certain rhythmic patterns, the father sings his lines in a specific pattern, and the girl in the speaks her lines normally. This creative addition to the show, helps keep the audience intrigued in the overall direction that the story is headed in. As the mother and father leave the girl to train with the rhythmic coach, the rhythmic coach begins to speak to the girl. Unfortunately however, the girl is reluctant to speak back to her. 

This scene is very comedic due to Frizzell and Couliard’s natural knack for comedic timing. After some time passes, the rhythmic coach learns that the girl is uninterested in learning ballet meter, as her parents wish of her. She also learns that the girl has already mastered the art of rhyming. The rhyming coach then convinces the girl to confront her parents about this secret. In order to tell her parents the truth, the girl sings a song to her parents, and blows them away with her talented voice. This convinces them to let her choose her own path in musical exploration. Couliard’s singing abilities should definitely be noted here. Her ability to reach both high and low notes in her singing solo shows her versatility in theatre, and the tremendous power of her voice.

The final short play in this six part performance is “Spectacle.” This short play begins with a woman played by Frizzell, shooting another woman, played by Couliard, with a gun. A director, played by Stewart, is then revealed to be directing the characters for a scene in a play. When he stops the rehearsal to go over his directing notes, the eager writer, played by Hutecheson, attempts to override the director’s authority. The director reluctantly allows the writer to go over a few brief notes, and quickly becomes flustered as these few notes soon turn into an entire list of complaints. The writer then has the actors replay the moment, but his lack of blocking notes leads to a muddled rehearsal run.

 A lot of the conflict between the writer and director, hinges upon the writer’s focus pure emotionally based directing. Meanwhile the director is more focused on the blocking of the scene, to convey emotion. The director in response, has the actors redo the scene. The actresses then take the director’s notes to heart, and improve on their performances. The director and writer are both ecstatic, however the writer desires to further direct the scene to his idea of perfection.

Before this happens however, the director calls for the end of the rehearsal as both actresses leave, alongside two rehearsal stage crew members, played by Sturman and McCormick. This short play really hinges upon humor, but also upon a big message. Often the realism of a scene depends more upon the stage mechanist, than that of the poet.

Overall “Elements” proved to be a major success. By utilizing both deep analyses of Aristotle’s six principles of theatre, as well as witty humor, “Elements” showed itself to be a truly thought- provoking and entertaining play.