Theater: Playwrights’ Festival productions pack a punch

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Poor Bob by Anthony Ellison runs 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday
Rust on Bone by Bianca Sams runs 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday
Both shows are in the Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall
Readings will be done Thursday-Saturday
Free for OU students; $5 non-students
Rating: Poor Bob: 4/5
              Rust on Bone: 5/5

Junior Shambrion Treadwell (left) and graduate student Thomas Daniels (right) perform a scene in Rust on Bone.  (Alayna Steele | For The Post)

Junior Shambrion Treadwell (left) and graduate student Thomas Daniels (right) perform a scene in Rust on Bone. (Alayna Steele | For The Post)

I absolutely adore going to see the mainstage productions the Division of Theater produces each year. The actors, though they are simply students, perform at a professional level, the sets are mind-blowingly beautiful and it’s all for free! What’s not to like? But it’s one thing to see a revered play be put on by a renowned theater school. It’s another to see this same group produce an entirely new play that was written by one of their own.

And that’s what happens with the Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights’ Festival every year for the past two decades.

All of the graduate playwrights write an original piece as a final exam of sorts for a particular class. This year, two were chosen to be fully produced and the other seven are readings.

The two fully produced plays are Rust On Bone by Bianca Sams and Poor Bob by Anthony Ellison. Rust On Bone analyzes the effects of war and society’s perception of mental illness by following a therapist who is trapped in her office and must use her wit and skills to get out. Poor Bob is a comedy about a family struggling to properly grieve the death of a family member who was also a pillar in the community.

The plays are very different. There’s the obvious sense in which one is a comedy — Poor Bob — and the other is a drama, Rust on Bone. Then there’s also the sense in how each play functions. Poor Bob pulls you in with its frequent punchlines and comedy; Rust on Bone keeps your interests peaked with lasting moments of suspense. Both are great in their own right, but if you choose to only see one, I would suggest choosing Rust on Bone.

Rust on Bone manages to make every second count. I was enthralled in the storyline the entire time. It is just good drama. And it helps when you have an outstanding cast elevating the words. Thomas Daniels captivated me as Jim Daniels, the antagonist of sorts. The arc of that character is captivating and Daniels is a master at his craft. Shambrion Treadwell is a masterful lead; Sophie Mitchem’s performance as a tortured soul was chilling and was extraordinarily delivered; and Jessica Savitz was great as the sometimes much needed comedic relief.

Poor Bob was very good. It is told in a way that you have to pay attention because explanations are contained in several reveals throughout the show. It was a very interesting structure. However, there were some scenes that weren’t as interesting as others and some lull moments — moments I didn’t feel when I saw Rust on Bone. Poor Bob’s cast was very good, as I’ve found to be the norm in Division of Theater productions, but only one actor stood out: Emily Auwaerter as Sharna, the funeral home director. Her performance was zany, expressive and simply hilarious. She was my favorite to watch throughout the night.

So go check out the last week of the Playwrights’ Festival and see these shows for themselves! Just because they aren’t mainstage, it doesn’t mean they are well-written or amazingly produced.


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