Editor's note: This article was updated on Oct. 17, 2022.
The School of Performing Arts kicked off its theater season in Squires Studio Theater with an electric performance of “This Random World: The Myth of Serendipity” that ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 4. Amanda Nelson, the director of the production, noted in her director’s note to the audience that this play is all about “missed connections.” The playwright, Stephen Dietz, grapples with themes of coincidence and destiny in this play. The work leaves the audience contemplating the alternative universes these characters could’ve been in if they had just waited a little bit longer and connected with the person right next to them.
This production follows an ensemble cast made up of seven undergraduate students in the School of Performing Arts. The opening scene starts off strong with main characters Beth and Ted Ward; Beth is dictating her own obituary to her brother in his house in case something happens to her on her dangerous trip to Nepal. She eventually spirals, and we go on to meet the rest of the characters: Rhonda, Scottie Ward, Claire, Gary and Bernadette. The audience begins to understand that everyone is connected in some way, and all of these people would have known each other, but they just don’t seem destined to connect.
The message of missed connections is further explored in the set design. This play is performed on a three-quarter proscenium-thrust stage, with the stage extending out into the audience who surround the stage on all three sides, allowing for the performers to be in closer proximity to the audience. This choice of stage allows the drama and action of the actors to be more deeply felt in the audience.
John Ambrosone, set designer and theater chair, designed the stage to mimic a revolving door. The stage revolves around onto the next set with a new pair of characters who are in the middle of their conversation setting up the next conflict. The audience grows to understand the interconnectedness of all of the characters and the relationships they hold, but the characters pass each other like people who use a revolving door as an entrance, which reinforces the idea of missed connections.
Another aspect of the set design are the furnishings and props, which brings you into the world of every character and makes you much more invested in their stories. The stage is first set as a view into Ted’s house, which is a simple living room with couches and chairs, but the floor is cluttered with crumpled cans. The design of Ted’s living room speaks to the disappointments he’s been through in his personal life recently. Every set is executed beautifully: the icebergs in Nepal, the diner table and the park benches. The designs make you feel like you’re actually part of the scene, especially with the close proximity of the stage to the audience.
The sound and lighting design of this play also need to be applauded for adding to the overall realism. The lighting hits the back walls of the scene and shifts colors to everything from cool blues to warm oranges. This reflects the mood of the scene and represents the natural environment. The sound also envelops the audience in the scene and brings them much closer to the cast, allowing them to feel like they’re in the moment watching from a short distance.
The ensemble cast’s performances truly made the play amazing. All the actors completely understood their parts and portrayed their characters through their range of body movements and vocal tone. They were able to capture the essence of the play and strike a sympathetic chord within the audience who may have faced similar experiences. The cast was also able to infuse humor into their roles effortlessly while still maintaining the emotional core.
Aryan Mathur, a junior and public health major, enjoyed the close-knit community the actors formed while rehearsing. He is one of seven undergraduate students acting in the play alongside special guests at each performance.
“My favorite part about the show was getting the opportunity to work with and develop strong friendships with my cast mates,” Mathur said. “My cast mates were some of the most talented people I’ve been around and were incredibly fun and supportive from day one.”
The next theater performance coming from the School of Performing Arts is “Describe the Night,” by Rajiv Joseph. Open auditions are Oct. 11 and 12 in Theatre 101. For more information on upcoming School of Performing Arts events, visit performingarts.vt.edu.