Sam Tezak

Life Editor

“Masturbating While Lonely…huh,” I thought to myself as I pressed the edges of a small white pamphlet scotch taped to the door. Down the aisle of bathroom stalls in Worner and pasted on other spaces around campus, it seemed this play was inescapable. Did I plan on seeing it? No.

But I did. Fast forward to this past Saturday, I sat in another notoriously small Slocum double, room 106. Twenty-two of us sat attentively in the center of the room, some of us staring at one another from across the room, others like myself, looking vacantly at the ungainly wooden dresser that I felt certain, would obstruct my view of the play.

8:33 p.m. The lights shut off, and snap! One of the bedside lamps, clamped to a baseboard on the bed in front of me, opens up a stream of yellow light. That, that’s where it all began.

First-year Alec Sarche shot up from the first bed, confessing to the audience about how he doesn’t always think about his long-distance girlfriend, though as he closes his eyes, and stacks his feet together right before bed, ay, there’s the rub! That’s when the memories begin to surface in his sleepy head.

Sophomore Holly Pretsky follows his act as the light snaps back off and hers on, and reveals to the audience that she doesn’t think about him then, she thinks about him all day. Tension builds between Arthur and Ellie although it will be a few more scenes before they interact.

The play continued, two actors: Sarche and Pretsky performed as “Arthur” and “Ellie,” two college lovers competing against the trials of separation during their first semester. “Masturbating While Lonely,” written by first-year James Dineen, takes the attendee by the collar, the eyeball, and the ear, and engages them with a phenomenal theatrical ride nothing less than a tour-de-force located in the corners of our own campus.

Arthur and Ellie’s monologues convey a certain nakedness and vulnerability one may feel in a long-distance relationship. The Skype sessions between them that highlight the luxuries of technology and yet its faults, or even the quirks and last scene that inexplicably empowers the viewer to take the time to reflect and relate to the characters, this play bleeds authenticity.

I won’t spoil the play any further, but following the last scene, I left room 106 in an attempt to hunt down James for an interview. Though I did not find him, we fell into contact, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him the next morning.

Although at face value the question seems dull, I had to ask James about how he initially dove into the playwriting process. I quickly realized that the play’s holistic and genuine nature was in a large part an expression of James’ own personality. “There’s a theater in Denver, Curious Theater on Lincoln and 8th over by Dazzle, two blocks to the west of that. But they have a playwright incubator called Curious New Voices. Essentially, you stay there for a month and just write and at the end of the month they find a director for your show, cast it, and have a stage reading so meaning all the actors have scripts and they sort of halfway produce your show.” he said.

James said during this period at Curious New Voices he wrote a play “Words of Bliss” which details the lives of Charles Bliss and Shirley McNaughton who invented and pioneered the use of blissymbolics to give a voice to cerebral palsy patients in the later 20th century. After listening to him explain his play and the background, I opened up my browser to listen to the “Mr. Bliss” Radio Lab edition—I recommend this story to everyone.

Many differences lay between James’ first play and his second. He said, “The first difference in process is the first [play] was a biographical play of someone that I do not know, everything based on research and trying to figure out what might have happened in certain situation. Whereas this one is about a freshman finishing first semester, I am a freshman finishing first semester.”

He began writing the play over winter break with his two friends, Alec and Holly, in mind as actors, which greatly effected how he wrote the characters into life.

One of the most interesting points that James communicated during the interview was how he utilized silence and darkness to enable reflection for the viewer. “My goal is that, I think that the most powerful way to communicate something to an audience is in the space between someone saying something and someone saying something else. That’s where it is communicated. Planting a seed and showing them a poster. People respond to feeling that they are a part of it, you aren’t preaching them, and you are showing them.” he said.

And in the spoken words, the “bookends” for silence that are manifest in the play such as Arthur and Ellie’s exchange of seemingly meaningless words, “people were able to insert their experiences in those places” he said. Lastly, the audience was able to draw meaning not only from these little verbal snapshots of the character’s relationship with one another, but also from miscellaneous items around the set.

“Masturbating While Lonely…huh,” I thought to myself. It’s a peculiar name for a play with only one masturbation scene. I don’t suppose that scene embodies the rest of the play. Considering the title now, with the level of intimacy, genuineness, and vulnerability revealed in the play, it’s gold.

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