For the last 18 springs, the Boston Theatre Marathon has been a huge party of a play festival. As the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre website boasts, it’s “50 10-minute plays, by 50 New England playwrights, produced by 50 New England theatres…in ten hours!” This year, for the first time, Northeastern’s Department of Theatre got into the act, as Assistant Teaching Professor Jonathan Carr directed Jeni Mahoney’s hilarious play, Chuck Roast Toast.
“There were loads of exciting plays to choose from, but we were terribly lucky to get Chuck Roast Toast,” Carr reports. In the play, we hear screaming, and a woman enters to investigate. She sees something gruesome and gasps, but cannot look away, and then she begins to laugh. A friend enters to see what is so funny, and is horrified to discover what she’s watching. Just then, we see it too: their mutual friend Chuck, being eaten by an alligator. “There was a huge amount of freedom on the page. Jeni’s script invites the director and the actors to play around to find the right balance between the humor on the page, the grotesque events, and the impossible problem of an alligator eating a man on stage,” Carr said. “I knew it would be a great experience for actors to work on the creation of this play, so I was thrilled to get to cast Northeastern students and give them the opportunity not just to collaborate with a living playwright but also to bring their work to the assembled Boston theatre community.”
Though it would necessarily be a brief process, Paula Ries signed on to design costumes and especially to create the alligator. Grant Terzakis ’16, Kira Topalian ’17, Pablo Hernandez Basulto ’18, and Sam Mulcahy ’18 came together to perform the play. Terzakis remembered the jumping off point: “I really enjoyed the first rehearsal when we all came in with a different way of being eaten/eating someone. All four of us had unique ideas and it served as a launching pad for the rest of the rehearsal process.” Indeed, Terzakis’ use of a stretchy pair of green shorts directly inspired the man-sized tube that Reis created for Basulto to inhabit as the alligator. But, as Terzakis points out, “The phrase, ‘I have an idea!’ became a consistent part of our vernacular.” A great moment in rehearsal was the discovery that Mulcahy could reach into the alligator’s mouth and pull out his own character’s severed arm— so long as he hid his own arm behind his back and actually pulled out Basulto’s free arm from the mouth.
A key part of the experience for the cast was having Mahoney in the room, watching, laughing, and frequently rewriting in response to their work. “It was very interesting to have the playwright in rehearsal and see the text change as we played with it and discovered new things, rather than having to work with a rigid text exactly as written,” Topalian said. Basulto concurred, “She was a very helpful voice in the room, not assuming that she had all of the answers but rather discovering the play with us…. Jeni had a seed of inspiration and built upon that, but she still had so much room for growth and for all of us to contribute.”
The performance was a great success, earning raucous laughter and making Carr proud: “Surrounded by Boston theatre pros, our students more than held their own. And better yet, they brought this great script to life and really landed it.” The day of the Marathon was a highlight for the students as well. Terzakis, who graduated the day before the performance, had never performed in as large a venue as the Wimberly Theatre. Together the cast reveled in the experience of meeting and performing for actors they’d admired in shows they had seen around Boston, but only Pablo had the experience of being an alligator. Or so he thought, until he bumped into another actor from another play pulling on stretchy green fabric. “Turns out he was a reptile, not an alligator, but we still bonded about our green performances.” Only at the Marathon, only in Boston.