Basement Arts rarely produces original work from University students, but the popular theater group is taking a chance with “The Surprise,” playing this weekend at the Arena Theater.

Morgan Morel
The cast of “The Surprise” rehearses in the Arena Theater Tuesday. (ANGELA CESERE/For the Daily)

In workshops prior to its current production, the quirky drama received praise from private audiences who lauded its sharp dialogue and eccentric, Albee-esque characters.

“People have really enjoyed it,” said playwright and director Zach Lupetin.

The play has collected three Hopwood awards and comparisons to the classic play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

” ‘Woolf’ is one of my all-time favorites. (‘The Surprise’) is definitely modeled after that tradition,” Lupetin said.

The Residential College junior wrote the play while taking a playwriting class with School of Music theater Prof. Oyamo, and drew inspiration from his family.

“I got the idea from my sister,” Lupetin said. “My father had a surprise party a couple of years ago, and she wrote this farcical invitation saying how much we hated (our) father. I took the idea from that and made it about this family.”

“The Surprise” centers on the Bensons, a dysfunctional clan led by the “quasi-insane” mother, Marion, and the three quarreling Benson daughters. The women haphazardly prepare a surprise party for their overworked patriarch, Jasper.

“The surprise is sort of a metaphor – a cure-all for the family crisis,” Lupetin said. “The stress drives her over the edge and almost leads to the destruction of the family.”

“The Surprise” doesn’t shy away from crude language and frank discussions of sex and mental disorders. It goes to great length to avoid becoming yet another piece of light family fare.

Marion suffers from the early stages of dementia and drives her family mad by either delving into the sexual practices of her rude college-aged daughters, or annoying her adulterous husband.

“She has an impulse problem and says everything she thinks,” Lupetin said.

Though “The Surprise” is filled with tragic undertones, it tackles such issues with the same humor in the way “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” did decades ago.

Lupetin is aware of this and has prepared for adverse reactions. “Some of it is controversial,” he said. “I think it may offend some people. There are some jokes that are off color.”

Unlike upcoming Basement shows “Lystrata” and “Macbett” (sic), Lupetin is directing his own work – which certainly puts pressure on the Lupetin.

“I obviously hope that people love it,” Lupetin said. “My biggest hope is that it works and that it keeps the audience interested.”

Still, he said, the excitement outweighs the nervousness. Lupetin is eager to present “The Surprise” to the University’s theater community.

“It’s sort of an experiment because it’s never been performed,” Lupetin said. “It’s an original student work, which makes it more close to home.”

The Surprise
Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m.
Saturday at 11 p.m.

At the Arena Theater

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