Suffering through class may often feel like a hellish experience. Starting tomorrow, Basement Arts will present two plays exploring the topics of classroom woes and purgatory pains respectively: “The End of Civilization as We Know It” and “Waiting.”

“The End of Civilization as We Know It” and “Waiting”

Tomorrow through Saturday at 7 p.m., Friday at 11 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center

The directors of the plays, Amanda Cohen for “Civilization” and Neal Kelley for “Waiting,” are freshmen pursuing their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Directing and will be displaying their first works while at the University.

Both plays deal with the analysis of human behavior and have surprising plot twists.

“The teacher (in ‘Civilization’), Tess McCormack, comes into the class and makes impossible demands of her students,” Cohen said. “Her reasoning is that if the students of her top honors class will do anything for an appeasing grade, then there is nothing to say about their future. It discusses what we, as human beings, will do to survive and rise to the top.”

“(‘Waiting’) is kind of an uncomfortable comedy. It is funny but it is not ‘in your face’ humor. The audience might not be sure when they should laugh,” Kelley explained. “It’s essentially a man in this uncertain location facing an uncertain future. There’s this anxiety and despair and prolonged inevitability of fate. We’re trying to capture the emotional state and the journey of this character through his unfortunate circumstances.”

The freshmen directors were influenced by bigger and overarching ideas.

Cohen said her play addresses the cyclical nature of history.

“History unfortunately repeats itself, and if we can’t learn from our past mistakes then we’re not going to progress in the future,” Cohen said.

“On a more positive note, I want the audience to enjoy themselves, laugh and connect with the characters. Even though the moral is bleak, it’s really funny and sassy, and I hope they enjoy it,” she added.

Presenting a play that deals with the complexity of purgatory, Kelley has learned about life throughout his directorial efforts with “Waiting” and has been able to apply that knowledge to how to present “life” in a theatrical setting.

“In theater you get to watch people interact with each other, and deconstruct human behavior right in front of you. You learn to appreciate what you miss out on everyday, which are those little moments between people,” Kelley said.

Cohen has unparalleled insight into the “Civilization” script, as she knows the author personally.

“The playwright’s name is Mark Kaufman. He lives in Los Angeles and does commercial work and script writing,” Cohen said. “He’s a family friend. His father knows my stepfather because they work together. When I was young, he gave me inspiration to pursue directing by letting me read a bunch of plays and then asking my opinion of them.”

Kelley discovered his script inadvertently, but it comes from a big name which could add some pressure to do it justice.

“ ‘Waiting’ is written by Ethan Coen, one of the Coen brothers, who has directed a lot of famous productions,” Kelley explained. “I was just in Borders one day and I saw it in the play section, in a compilation named ‘Almost in Evening.’ I thought it would be a short and challenging piece, as the characters have very little back stories.”

As freshmen, both directors have found that actually being in the director’s chair is quite a challenge.

“It’s interesting dealing with obstacles as they come and trying to rebound. I’ve learned that if you fix it as fast as you can, it’ll be alright,” Cohen said. “Dealing with the various technical aspects of the show, it kind of gets you frazzled but you have to know it’s going to work out in the end.”

But despite their youth, Cohen and Kelley feel they have enough relevant experience to make successful college debuts.

“This is the first show I’ve directed, but I’ve associate choreographed ‘Hair’ through the company MUSKET, and assistant directed ‘Orpheus Descending’ through Rude Mechanicals,” Cohen said. “I did a lot of directing and choreographing in high school, because I used to be on a varsity dance team.”

“I directed two short shows by Edward Albee called ‘The Zoo Story’ and ‘The American Dream,’ ” Kelley said. “I’m from Ann Arbor, and I never really thought I would go to U of M. I always knew I wanted to study theater, but found out that Michigan has one of the only undergrad programs with a directing concentration and I found that interesting. Everyone works extremely hard here and wants to see each other do well. I think that’s why the program has such a good reputation.”

When it all comes together, Kelley wants audiences to enjoy themselves, but also to leave the show having discovered something about the way we live.

“I hope by watching our show, the audience can come out realizing not necessarily something about themselves, but something about human nature and how we live with each other,” he said.

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