This is the fifth year that the College of Charleston theatre department has presented Under the Lights, a theatrical showcase featuring 10 student-written and -produced plays. Four of the plays are award winners. "Whiskey" by Lauren Stuart and "Paper Heart" by Mary Rogers McMaster were runners-up for the 2010 Todd McNerney Playwriting Award, named after a CofC theater professor.
The Under the Lights series gives talented students a full production experience. From the initial creative writing process to the practical technical design and application, students have creative control and produce all the plays with guidance from the theatre department faculty and staff.
Directed by Matthew Rickerby and McMaster, the series this year includes a range of styles from the comical "Lion in the Yard" to the morbid "The Papers Are In," from the abstract "The Dance" to the realistic "Whiskey." Although the series has no official theme, the works do reflect a shared sense of youthful rebellion challenging social norms and expectations.
The various topics explored include relationships, death, materialism, ambition, and abuse. It's difficult to write a 10-minute play of substance with character development, but most of the plays are successful. The award-winning plays are the most notable. Examining youthful ambition, "Whiskey" was the strongest production in all aspects. With words and action, the playwright quickly establishes the characters and their conflicting motivations in the scene. The actors were committed to their roles and played them with conviction, although their volume dropped toward the end as their emotions settled down. The dialogue in "The Dance" utilizes a unique style of banter consisting of abstract musings, illustrating the verbal and emotional dance that exists in relationships.
Also worthy of special mention are "Gerbil Omelet," which takes a darkly humorous approach to abusive relationships, and "Shoreline," a Shakespearean tale of persistence and integrity.
The blackbox Chapel Theatre is a cozy space ideal for small, intimate productions, encouraging a quick response from the audience. The overall production would benefit from a more polished technical design, especially the lighting.
Under the Lights showcases the very talented troupe of students at the college. The altruistic goal of Under the Lights is admirable, but the series' directors could be more selective and reduce their offerings to eight, thus reducing the run time as well. Considering the admission price is the same as other Piccolo productions, prioritizing quality over quantity would make it a better deal.