Shepherd University’s Department of Contemporary Art and Theater presents Wonderous Strange, written by Martyna Majok, Meg Miroshnik, Jihae Park, and Jen Silverman. The continued performances will run from Nov 7. through Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door one hour before the performance begins.
The Contemporary play consists of a series of short vignettes that aim to connect with a wide array of audiences as each section is unique to the next. Each vignette is presented as a singular and self-contained story that can be understood without the inclusion of the others. The individual stories are only loosely related to each other based on the eerie, odd and horrific sensations that they relay.
Two of the most striking vignettes of the series were “Something Like” by Jiehae Park and “Bonnets” by Jen Silverman. “Something Like” was different from the rest of the show in that the horror was instilled through technology. The vignette begins with a crowd of people moving in time with a sound while absolutely consumed by their phones, laptops, and other devices. Among the crowd, one girl stood alone, hugging her laptop as she stares at the rest of the room in horror. Like an alcoholic in a bar, the girl gives in and opens her laptop to a SIRI like artificial intelligence program with a choppy, but responsive video recording to show the program’s “face” that is projected against the performance area’s wooden background. The vignette contained a lot of cool colors as the protagonist deals with her addiction to virtual reality taking over her real life.
“Bonnets” portrays a nearly opposite feeling while portraying a group of girls in a sort of club meeting. The characters each take the audience’s full attention for a few moments as they lecture on their preferred way of murdering people and why. The story is well placed as the last vignette of the show, with a fast-paced story that energizes the audience with lively performers and a general sense of terror as a group of women in prairie bonnets go wild. There is an excellent use of lighting that contrasts the rest of the show as the performers are bathed in a deep red light while exuberant rock music plays in the background.
The staging is different from a typical theater style as chairs are vertically staggered three-quarters of the way around the set with a wooden background with a door the cast can use to enter and exit. Most of the props are simply left on stage and attention is drawn to items once a cast member begins using it. While leaving a grouping of props on stage would likely be distracting to an audience in a typical theater, in worked quite well in a contemporary setting.
None of the stories are absolutely new as each story is loosely inspired by typical horror tropes, including some Appalachian folklore. However, the inclusiveness of the audience surrounding the stage, the short slice-of-life stories, the strong performances, and the carefully crafted lighting and sound design make Wonderous Strange a phenomenal and petrifying experience that is not easily forgotten.