The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

O Beautiful: The Show That Truly Was

This past week, the Westfield State Theater Arts program and Department of English put on a show connecting with its audience better than most shows ever could. Director Eric Parness assembled a cast and crew to perform “O Beautiful” written by Theresa Rebeck.

I found “O Beautiful” very appropriate based on the current state of our nation. This play incorporates the difficulties with, as well as the rights of the Second Amendment, suicide, and high school bullying; three subjects that led to horrible events recently.

The play follows high school student, Alice Fletcher’s attempt to get an abortion after being raped, and Lennie Ryan’s struggle to survive the constant mockery from his fellow classmates. All while the community is working through a period where fighting against the law comes with a price.

“O Beautiful” expresses in a unique way how people can blow off tragedies, such as suicide, and these same tragedies are ignored by higher powers. It truly is a show that eats away at your heart and emotions, exactly what a play with a powerful message is supposed to do.

(Photo provided by Westfield State University)

From a production standpoint, I enjoyed the chances Parness took towards a very original show. The stage is set up with three moving platforms, two smaller platforms in width on the sides, and one larger platform with a table secured onto it.

What especially fascinated me were the pulley systems used to move the platforms from one place to another. I have never seen anything like that before; I enjoyed the way it worked, although I did find it odd to have the stagehand operating the pulley in a spotlight.

There were also giant silhouette projections that simulated the setting of each scene. To me, they were not as impactful, but did add a nice touch. Along with the silhouette projections, was a light showing people’s shadows portrayed as the thoughts in a character’s head. This was a nice touch as well.

(Photo provided by Westfield State University)

I truly believe each scene had immense value to it. Scenes in the classroom, in the home watching television, and the gymnasium for the open forum. What I found the most effective were the last scenes in Act one and two, which cut to black with complete silence.

At the end of Act one when Lennie commits suicide, the instant blackout that accompanied the gun shot, which rang through the crowd, was followed by seconds of silence. It felt like a right hook to the gut. As I looked around the crowd, I saw many faces that couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of what had just happened.

Also effective was the glow in the dark insults plastered on the wall at the very end of the play once everyone left the stage. Highlighting those in complete silence was a great decision, and it made the audience think hard about the events that took place.

Every actor played a key role and I felt strong emotions toward every character. Sympathy with the kids, anger towards the bullies, and frustration with the adults who denied any wrongdoings.

I enjoyed the segments with Simon West, played by Evan Bylund, and the interviews with the historical figures he conducted. He made me truly believe he was a pro-gun advocate. The most effective action Bylund made was during his interview with John Adams. He left his usual platform and defended Lennie’s suicide right in his mother’s face. It seemed as though the TV program was speaking directly to her. That was a decision I commend greatly.

(Photo provided by Westfield State University)

Conor Bunker’s Jesus Christ showed incredible ability to garner sympathy and show true compassion towards every scene partner he had.

Shamus Maunsell and Lily Anderson’s characters, Luke and Gwen made me angry. Their neglect towards the seriousness of child suicide was appalling. Sam Fortilus made me pull for his character, Ty Janaleris to win this war of the supplemental readings in his class being revolutionary.

The best performance by far came from Remani Lizana, who starred as Lennie’s mother, Linda Ryan. Lizana took over the second act by looking visibly distraught and in terms of emotional acting, she had one of the best performances I have ever seen. I was getting a little choked up watching her grieve and sob over the loss of her son. This is exactly what I imagine a parent who lost their child would act like.

(Photo provided by Westfield State University)

I loved that Lizana’s character created the turning point near the end of the play by showing the text messages on Lennie’s phone in the open forum. Only Linda Ryan could convince everyone that the bullying accusations by Alice Fletcher were true. With all due respect to the other actors in this show, Lizana’s performance was the best head and shoulders above everyone else.

Overall, if this wasn’t a five star show it was pretty dang close. I’d give this a four and three quarter star rating for the convincing performances and unique stage design. To portray a topic as serious as gun control is very risky, especially this day in age. However, what Parness and his cast and crew put on was definitely something everyone needed to see. If you didn’t go to see this show, you definitely missed out on a phenomenal production.

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