Discovering the Shape of the World in CCM Acting’s “The Earth is Flat”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Earth is Flat: CCM Acting

Mention that you think the Earth is flat to someone and they might look at you funny.

But the idea of a flat Earth finds its way into the experiences of first-year college students struggling to find their way in the CCM Acting studio production of The Earth is Flat.

Commissioned as part of the 2016 CCM Playwrights Workshop by the CCM Vocal Performance/Acting alumnus Todd Almond (1999), The Earth is Flat tells the coming of age story of Ethan (Jack Steiner), who has troubles settling into college during his first semester at the University of Cincinnati.  His roommate Derek (Graham Lutes), in between bouts of being in an alcoholic stupor and his enduring fascination with Flat Earth videos on YouTube, helps make Ethan’s college experience bright.  Complications ensue when Ethan’s brother Jeremy dies in a motorcycle accident, which forces Ethan to leave school and face a crossroads in his personal life.

This play was refreshing in its depiction of the ups and downs of real life freshmen, an experience that the CCM Acting students flesh out to perfection.  There was an air of believability to their performances, not surprising since these students probably faced many of the same issues themselves when they were freshmen.

The main roles of Ethan and Derek provided a beautiful study in contrast.  Steiner played the role of Ethan with subtlety, emphasizing his character’s “cool” factor which belies the fact that Ethan has much insecurity and does not have his act together. Similarly, Lutes’ willingness to be “best buds” with Ethan highlights his character’s intense desperation to make friends.

Steiner and Lutes work off of each other very well, with Steiner often being the straight man to Lutes’ odd comments or obsessions over those who are obsessed (such as with those who believe in a flat Earth). You could easily see the two actors being actual roommates; their differences serve as a glue to bind them together.

Steiner and Lutes are complimented by a talented cast of supporting characters which help flesh out this world. Two of the most important are Ethan’s sister Jennifer (the role is double-cast.  I saw Madeleine Page-Schmit perform) and Derek’s crush, the flat Earther Shelly (also double-cast.  I saw Meg Olson perform).

Page-Schmit played Jennifer as bold, brassy, and assertive, everything that Ethan is not.  There was a wonderful scene with Page-Schmit and Steiner as Jennifer removes the colored dye in Ethan’s hair for their brother Jeremy’s funeral. For Olsen, I loved the way that she played the part of Shelly.  She really sold her mania for a flat Earth.  It was believable and comic as the same time—a study in obsession gone wrong.

Also worthy of note are the various roles played by Graham Rogers and Paige Jordan. Rogers stole the show with his nerdy dorm mate James, whose father was scheduling all his free time away from classes to come back home. James embodies the total awkwardness of freshman and you just had to love that character, even when he was being his most annoying.

For this production, director Richard Hess did a very fine job with his actors by avoiding the stereotypical clichés that you can find in the college experience. Even some of the characters who were types (such as the befuddled parent at the start of the show played wonderfully by Paige Jordan) did not come off as caricatures.

In terms of the script itself, Almond’s play runs two-and-a-half hours long and there are parts where trimming would speed up the action and clarify character motivation.  This is part of the wonderful process of putting up a play for the first time; a playwright gets a chance to figure out how to make it better during its next production.  I predict that this play will have a life apart from this production.

In closing, this was a highly engaging and relatable play. I have seen students who fall into Ethan’s plight during the beginning of their college experience, so I deeply appreciated that their story was being told.  The Earth is Flat runs only four performances, from Thursday, November 2 to Saturday, November 4, 2017.

However, the strong cast and compelling subject hopefully warrant a revival of the production at a future date.  The issues the play raises have a wide appeal.  For more information about CCM Acting or the other shows within CCM, please visit their website at http://CCM.uc.edu.

 

 

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