BWW Review: LOVE, DEATH, AND THE PROM at Nebraska Thespian Festival
Review by Edison Geiler, Millard West High School.
Jon Jory's LOVE, DEATH, AND THE PROM kicked off the Nebraska State Thespian Festival Thursday night by marking the first All State show performed in years. Young thespians from across the state put on the production in the Holland Performing Arts Center. It's a perfect cast and crew for this non-linear anthology detailing both the lively and stressful aspects of high school.
As a collection of nine scenes with a loose narrative, this production naturally lends itself to be performed by a multitude of high schools. Jory's original vision called for minimalist sets, costumes, and props to draw focus on the characters and stories. With a limited amount of rehearsal time, coordinating director Jeremy Stoll was able to effectively knit together all the vignettes ranging from the ethics of cheating to suicide. All needed to convey the play's common themes in order to connect.
This production expertly shifted the order of the scenes to better thematically suggest Jory's message. Rather than having no definable structure as present in the original lineup, the first four stories dealt with love while the following four dealt with death, hence the title. Some were more pronounced, like not wanting to be with a partner or dealing with suicide, while others were quieter, such as the conflicting love of individual accomplishments versus the team, or the death of friendships. The final scene looked at three couples, combining all of love, death, and the prom in a thematically fitting conclusion. The blocking of each pair made each symbolic representation clear, helping this scene to effectively wrap up the prior eight.
The acting helped deliver the play's symbolism and messages. Especially in scenes like Cheating and The Rules, not only did actors create authentic relationships and situations, but they played to the larger symbolic narrative that helped the audience connect each story together in the final vignette. However, multiple scenes suffered because of projection issues. Because I couldn't always make out the dialogue, the relationships were underdeveloped and it was difficult to follow the plot and piece together the overarching message. Despite this, actors nailed some comedic and dramatic moments that made the production enjoyable to watch.
While the technical elements were minimal, it fits Jory's vision well. None of the sets were loud or distracting, but they worked for this piece. Costumes and lighting were appropriate when necessary, but they didn't need to be anything special. For how Jory wanted this piece to come together regarding tech, all nine high schools brought in simple but effective pieces. Sometimes it felt the locations were generic, but it was not a distraction for most of the production.
Though not without clever humor and subtle symbolism, LOVE, DEATH, AND THE PROM sometimes prevented actors from capturing authentic interactions between their characters. Despite technical elements that matched the intention of the author and great efforts by actors, many times the writing sacrificed a tight cohesive story for thematic narrative. Some scenes did a great job of both, while others felt lackluster. This All State show cast did their best with the source material, but LOVE, DEATH, AND THE PROM's structural damage could not be overcome by this young cast.