Graduate students write, produce new play

Lifestyle Reporter

Texas’s State Department of Theatre and Dance performed “Snake Oil,” a student-written and -directed production, this past weekend as part of the black box series.

The show, performed in the Patti Strickel Harrison Studio Theatre, is set in Sweetwater. The production is a comedy-drama centered on the workings of a con man weaving his way into people’s pockets by selling snake oil as a household remedy. The play focuses on his journey of being blackmailed into helping the daughter of one his customers, a teenage girl who is pregnant out of wedlock.

The first read-through for the performance was held before winter break, said Jack William Rodgers, theatre senior and actor.   

James Brownlee, director of the play and theatre graduate student, said one of the most interesting aspects of “Snake Oil” is rehearsals began in early January even though the script was not finalized.

“This was very much a collaboration,” Brownlee said. “We were rehearsing the play as he was writing it, and every week we would get new pages.”  

Brownlee said everyone came together seamlessly to take part in this unusual experience. 

“Normally when you are rehearsing a play you already have a complete script, but the unique experience about rehearsing an original play is that the playwright can come in and take a look at what works and what doesn’t and tweak it accordingly,” Brownlee said. “It was a great collaboration.”

Playwright Kevin Talley, an MFA playwriting candidate in his third year of graduate school, worked on “Snake Oil” over the summer. He said the second act was written in the beginning of the fall, but he was still in the process of finishing the redraft during the first few days of rehearsal.

"I didn’t know how the show would turn out,” Talley said. “I knew it had a great cast and crew, but I was pretty worried about my own writing. In the end you just have to do something and put it in the hands of great people, and it is going to turn out all right."

The writing managed to capture the essence of humor and drama together.

The performers fed off the audience’s energy.  

Rodgers hopes the audience develops a deeper understanding of family relationships after seeing the play.

“I hope the audience enjoys it and has a good time because that’s sort of my main goal, is to have the audience enjoy what they see.” Rodgers said. “I hope the audience develops a deeper understanding for what it means to have a family and what they mean to you but also when it’s time to do your own thing.”

Brownlee said different interpretations of the show are possible.

“It’s my job to honor the playwright’s words, so I have to do it in such a way that my creative stamp is on it but that everything he puts in there remains intact," Brownlee said. “There are several messages coming out the show, and the great thing about theatre is that the audience can take whatever they want from it."