Less than a year after he began writing his first play, Mike Czuba had the pleasure of seeing it catch some stage this weekend at this year’s Short Works Festival, part of Art Matters.
Like the other Student Initiated Production Agreement projects, Czuba’s The Convenience of Death was designed as “poor theatre.”
“Everything has got to be really kind of fine-tuned, because the spectacle is less,” said the playwright two short weeks before curtain call. In the end, his actors delivered.
The play was put off with a minimalist set and costumes. The pressure and focus were entirely on the performers, and in a short amount of time, the cast of three managed to deliver a chilling performance.
Emma McQueen (as Ellen) started the show with a monologue that set a high standard for the rest of the piece. The venue, the black box in Loyola’s TJ building, suited these actors perfectly. The audience was in their faces, and what made it a compelling performance were their eyes. As McQueen’s character spoke, she surveyed the crowded room with a teary, distant gaze, and the mood was set.
All three of the actors had shining moments during the production. In an argument between characters, Kyle Hamilton (as Will) delivered a cold “Fuck, relax” to an impassioned Nicolas Marti (as Stephen). McQueen’s voice quivered as she looked through glazed eyes and said “It’s Will,” when her character received a phone call informing her that her brother had been in a severe car accident.
And when Will himself returned as a ghost, there was a visible intensity in Hamilton’s eyes as he approached Marti’s character.
Finally, McQueen delivered the closing monologue with a changed light in her eyes, an engagement that had yet to be seen throughout the show, which conveyed the spirit of the hopeful ending very effectively.
Unfortunately, there were technical elements of the performance that took away from the acting itself. A few unnatural-sounding effects and some blocking problems that made a video montage near the end of the play difficult for many audience members to make out, regrettably detracting from some of the more dramatic moments in the show.
The group could have indulged more in the audience’s suspension of disbelief and in their small budget and gone a little more minimalist in order to further highlight their skills onstage.
Before the show began playing, Czuba said despite his nerves, he had high hopes for the show.
“I want it to be good, I know it will be, and at this point, I can’t really control any of that,” he said.
“That’s kind of why I’m freaking out a little bit, because it’s out of my hands, but I know it will be good.”
After the festival, it remains to be seen what Czuba thought of the performances, but if he was as thrilled as Sunday’s audience was, then it is safe to say that his prediction was correct.