University Players are currently presenting their production of 365 Days/365 Plays, with 40 selected works from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jane Luk. It’s showing until February 12th at Essex Hall Theatre at the University of Windsor.
There is your everyday impulse, and then there is the impulse of a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Since becoming the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks created an anthology of 365 plays, which were written over a one-year period back in 2002, each with its own distinctive characters and dramatic power. Every day, the playwright would write a short play ranging from a short scene to a few lines long to simply no words at all. Each scene varies from comedy to fantasy to heartwarming to gut-wrenching tragedy. The University Players students have gathered a selection of the 365 works and perform them in a montage of scenes that tell a story of Action, Inaction, and Remembering Who You Are. The result is a deep dive into the consciousness and lessons on life.
Under the direction of award-winning director Jane Luk, University Players features 365 Days/365 Plays, performing 40 of the 365 stories. Unsurprisingly, the students created another memorable presentation to impress and entertain. University Players is not a huge, high-budget theatre; however, this highlights their skill to strip down everything to the essentials while giving off the high-end production vibe. Through creativity and ingenuity, they were effectively able to showcase various stories without requiring changes in the set beyond some costuming and location on the set. Each of the actors knew their cues, proper stage blocking, and remained in character even when the main focus was not on them. There were even a few special moments where they actors had the chance to flaunt their musical and vocal talents that just added that little extra layer of enjoyment. They did a commendable job switching between so many characters and so many scenes. The transitions were seamless and well-organized, keeping the pace of the plays consistent and taking little time to switch between stories. Not every play was immediately obvious on what the plot it was trying to portray; however, this almost gave them a more thought-provoking edge and a deeper dive into the human condition.
The production required little props, stationary platform pieces varying in different heights, and subtle costuming to tell the story, so actors had to rely on selling the fantasy through their body language and physical interpretation. The plays required physicality to convey the emotions, motivations, and intentions of a character, and they did this with confidence in the portrayal of their roles and made an excellent connection with the audience. The makeup was very simple, where each actor had a black smoky-eye that was the perfect neutral look to fit multiple different scenes and characters while simultaneously giving the actors a more concealed appearance. The costuming was mainly all black attire with white garnishments and the occasional fully realized costume. A fun little detail they added to a few of the plays was their portrayal of a dragon. The costume consisted of no more than four actors, a large sparkly blanket, and a horned hat, but translated the gigantism and mysticality that one would envision when thinking of the beast. The lighting was generally stationary beyond the occasional spot lighting to highlight a particular scene or represent a specific characteristic. These small details were incredibly effective in selling the production and were meaningful enough to say so much with the bare minimum.
Overall, the story was incredibly engaging and consistently entertaining for audiences of ages 14+. Though some stories appeared to be confusing and somewhat nonsensical, the actors took the materials and portrayed the show with professionalism and enthusiasm. University Players continues to impress and maintain their admirable reputation. I would absolutely recommend seeing 365 Days/365 Plays while it is still being showcased and any future University Players productions.
365 Days/365 Plays continues this weekend, until February 12th. Tickets are available at University Players (Essex Hall Theatre, 401 Sunset Ave, Windsor, ON), by phone at (519) 253-3000 ext. 2808, or on the University Players website.
“I am That, you are That, all this is That, and That’s all there is.” – Someone