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Theater review: Great timing for ‘Gaieties of Future Past’

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A malfunctioning time machine and an unrealized tour guide dream give birth to yet another not-so-genius evil plot to destroy Stanford University in Ram’s Head’s 2016 production of “Gaieties.” While this plot may appear to be disastrous for Stanford University, and for Gaieties, this is the tried-and-true method for a successful production.

This year’s “Gaieties of Future Past” (head writers Katie Adams ‘17 and Michael McKenna ‘16), travels through time (specifically, from 2016 to 1885) to bring Stanford students a not-so-timeless story about how Stanford triumphs over Cal, in anytime and anyplace. The plot is faulty, the ending is predictable, the characters are essentially caricatures of vaguely real people, but that doesn’t really matter. No one watches “Gaieties” expecting the next “Hamilton” or Best Musical of the Year; they simply watch it to be entertained. And entertaining it was.

Following the story of Polly Plain (Brenna McCulloch ‘20) and her roommate oh-so-cleverly named Roo Mate (Isabela Angus ‘20), “Gaieties of Future Past” travels back in time to highlight a very important message to Stanford Students of 2016: We need to love our school – and, most importantly, we need to love and appreciate ourselves; a sappy end, yes, but perhaps a necessary one in our day and age.

Upon receiving less-than-stellar news from the Stanford Tour Guides, Roo vengefully decides that her only course of action is to wreak havoc on our beloved university and join the dark side (also known as UC Berkeley). As they say, hell hath no fury like a Stanford student scorned. Naturally, Roo decides that her best course of action is to travel back in time to alter the most significant moments in Stanford history, from the school’s founding in 1885 to the apparently-infamous Cal Beat Stanford Conference of 1931 – all using a time machine that she invented. To stop Roo and save the greatest school in the nation, overachieving freshman Polly enlists the help of some important historical figures in Stanford history: Hewlett, Packard and Joe of Trader Joe’s. Thus emerges the whirlwind plot behind this year’s take on a very familiar story.

As an entirely student written and produced musical, “Gaieties” has been a Stanford tradition dedicated to some good ol’ pre-Big Game Cal-bashing since it began back in 1911. This fact by no means makes the show old news, but it can mean that the plot can get a bit boring, especially for upperclassmen who feel “if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times.” But what this Stanford-wins-all storyline may lack in originality, the characters cover up with a whirlwind of kicks, thrusts and synchronized harmonies.

Angus as Roo shouts, cries and laughs maniacally as she vows to go back in time to destroy Stanford. Although her vocals are captivating, as she displays phenomenal control over her soft and raspy tonality, her character is a bit lackluster. Roo is a good-two-shoes Stanford student turned double-crosser the moment she does not get exactly what she wants. Roo herself functions mostly as a one-dimensional figure to promote our school rivalry against Cal and a vehicle to get the plot started (especially since she is the inventor of the time machine around which the story is centered).

Speaking of the time machine, Matthew Libby (‘17) as the Meyer Time Machine may be more endearing than his creator. Libby takes his robotic character and gives him a hilarious-yet-lovable vitality. With an ever-present smile, faraway stares and the occasional “bee-boo-beep,” Libby truly commands the stage.

Perhaps the most original “Gaieties” twist centers around the partnership between the great Hewlett and Packard; Austin Zambito-Valente and Minh-Anh Day (both ‘20) augment the show with their palpable sexual tension. During one scene, Zambito-Valente and Day tango against a backdrop of rosy lighting and outrageously dreamlike dancers, who wear pink morph suits adorned with papier-mâché hearts, creating a hilariously overdone, passionate, captivating mini rom-com plotline. This spin on the Hewlett-Packard partnership could be construed by some as stereotypical or perhaps offensive, but it’s all in good fun, and it creates a more modernized love story well-suited for our 2016 audience.

Another noteworthy performance comes from Patrick O’Hare (‘17) who plays young Joe Coloumbe, a Stanford student from the past, and future founder of Trader Joe’s. When Polly picks up Joe and asks him to help her on her mission to save Stanford, O’Hare immediately bursts into a surfer-dude, high-out-of-his-mind character voice. Although essentially a caricature of the man himself, this character serves to augment the comical atmosphere, especially as his he reveals his true calling: to serve the blandest food to the richest white suburbanites.

Without these historical characters or the mode of time travel, “Gaieties of Future Past” would probably offer little more than puns and at-times raunchy humor. What keeps the show chooglin’ is the element of school spirit, deeply-ingrained tradition and, most importantly, a message about the need to accept yourself, even if you don’t succeed in every aspect of your life.

“Gaieties of Future Past” is more than just a better-than-Cal story. It is a tale about how we all find our own individual identities – as Stanford students, as humanities people, as STEM majors – in an admittedly humorous and thought-provoking fashion. It encourages us to appreciate our school and ourselves in the present and the future all the while getting us psyched for the Big Game.

 

Contact Alli Cruz at allicruz ‘at’ stanford.edu.