Image courtesy of Theatre Fairfield

I have just come back from attending Theatre Fairfield’s latest production, Mask Play by John Morogiello. This is the latest play in Theatre Fairfield’s Theatre in the Raw series, following 2021’s Project X. These pieces are devised specifically for the company, so their Fairfield premiere is their world premiere as well. The play was conceived in a collaborative effort between Morogiello and the play’s director (and adjunct Fairfield University professor) Jacob Hofmann. Theatre Fairfield students also had the opportunity to provide their input on the script in the lead-up to the production. I was lucky to be one of these students.

Because of my heavy involvement in Theatre Fairfield (TF), I went into the Wien Blackbox Theater already knowing the play’s plot, cast and structure, which gave me a different experience than the average audience member. What may not be clear from the play’s marketing alone is the type of show that Mask Play is. TF’s production of Mask Play is a staged reading, meaning that actors have the script in their hand, with very little blocking and minimal production elements like a set, lights, sound, costumes and props. In fact, the only real props are the titular masks. To be clear, these masks are not clinical like the ones with which we are all too familiar from the pandemic. Instead, they are reminiscent of those from ancient Greek theatre. 

You have seen representations of these masks before. The classic comedy and tragedy masks are synonymous with theatre; however, we rarely see these masks used on the stage. As someone who actively enjoys and participates in theatre, this was a real treat. It is amazing how obscuring an actor’s face can alter their performance without detracting from it. For this experience alone, I recommend attending the show. It is very unlikely that you will get an opportunity to see something like this again.

What is the Play About?

I don’t want to give much away, so I will give you the CliffsNotes version. The play takes place in the 1980s and follows a group of students who are enrolled in an acting class. When their professor suffers a heart attack, a mysterious and radical substitute named Susan takes his place. This new teacher is determined to make the students face some hard truths, and does so by using masks in the classroom. The play covers some topics relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community.

How was it?

While acknowledging my biases as a Theatre Fairfield student, the performance that I attended went well. It was clear that some actors had more experience on stage than others, but seeing as the same was true for the characters they were playing, it worked. I think the strongest aspect of the play is its character development. Most of the characters start off as your standard college stereotypes (the class clown, business bro, etc.) but as the play goes on, it is revealed that there is much more to them than meets the eye. Even though I knew the story going in, I was actively engaged the entire time. If the play was any longer, I might have found myself squirming in my seat, but it ended at just the right moment. All the performance elements fell into place, and the cast and crew should be proud of a job well done.

That being said, my feelings on the script are mixed. For one, I see some missed potential in Susan’s character. When I was first reading the script, I was intrigued by her mysterious nature and how her masks seemed to compel the students toward self-confrontation. I thought for sure she would be revealed to be a supernatural figure or force, like a spirit of truth or something to that effect. In the end, however, she turned out to be just an unusual substitute teacher, which was disappointing.

My second problem with the script has to do with how it conveys its message of social justice to the audience. At multiple points throughout the show, particularly in Act II, characters explicitly tell the audience the show’s point of view. I have a problem with this. In my eyes, stating something directly to the audience is lazy writing. Media should trust that its audience is intelligent enough to piece together meaning without spelling it out for them. To be clear, these moments are not widespread throughout the show, and I do not oppose the play’s messages at all. Rather, I simply feel that they could have been communicated in a more natural way.  

The Verdict

Mask Play is an engaging and enjoyable piece of experimental theatre.  It succeeds in its intended context, having been written for a college theatre program, but if it were to leave this context, I would advise that it spend some more time in the revision room. Those who are expecting a full-fledged production may leave the theater underwhelmed, so it is best to go in knowing what to expect.

The company has two more performances: Sat. Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sun. Dec. 3 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the Quick Center box office, the Quick Center and Theatre Fairfield websites, as well as at the door.  If you are a student and have even the slightest interest in theatre, it is definitely worth the $5!