Junior Akilan Murugesan and sophomore Avi Bhullar rehearse for the winter play, “Seven Stories.”

Off-the-wall characters on the ledge

At 6-foot-6-inches, play director Brian Frishman sits reclined, feet up, engrossed in what’s unfolding onstage.

“Daniel, when’s a time in your life when you’ve been most dissatisfied?” he asks.

“That’s where this guy is at, so try to touch into that.”

“Make it realistic and dramatic,” he adds.

Sophomore Daniel Hernried nods, takes a drag on his stage cigarette, looks at the script and continues in a British accent.

Six weeks ago, Hernried began preparing for his role as Michael Merchant, one of 12 quirky characters in the upcoming play, “Seven Stories.”

The late 20th century absurdist-existential play revolves around a single man (junior Akilan Murugesan) who contemplates suicide, while some other characters urge him to reconsider his decision.

Frishman said that “Seven Stories” wasn’t his first choice for the play.

Originally, Frishman had planned to do “Charley’s Aunt,” a famous English comedy, but two of his main actors dropped out.

Consequently, Frishman said that the actors have had a shortened rehearsal period.

“Ideally, what you’d have if you had time would be a week of table readings where you discuss the meaning of the play,” he said.

“But now I have actors instinctively discover things while they’re rehearsing, and, at certain important points, we stop and talk about (the meaning).”

Frishman said that with “Seven Stories,” conveying the theme is particularly important.

“The play deals with the meaninglessness of life and how people find many different ways to escape it instead of facing their real lives,” he said.

Murugesan said that all of the characters are trying to escape life through different means.

The suicidal man, Murugesan says, is the only “straight man” (grounded character) in the play, as he isn’t as wacky as the others.

“It’s actually harder than you’d think trying to react naturally to these weird characters, but it’s fun,” he said.

Junior Elinor Hilton plays one of these strange roles as Nurse Wilson.

Wilson, Hilton explained, is an old-people-hating cynic. “I actually tell the man to kill himself because I think waiting to die when you’re old is a waste of time,” she said.

Hilton says that it’s difficult portraying a mean and cynical character realistically.

“I’m usually a nice person (in real life), and I’m nicely telling the guy to kill himself,” she said.

 “It’s hard having to remember it’s okay to say something like that (on stage).”

Hernried is having the most trouble changing between characters within the play.

Play director Brian Frishman looks on during rehearsal.
Photo by Adam Ketchum
Play director Brian Frishman looks on during rehearsal.

He plays Michael Merchant, a failed American actor who pretends to be a debonair Brit named Marshall in hopes of marrying a very rich heiress.

“It’s more than just a lot of memorization for the monologues because I always have to switch back and forth between accents from Marshall to Michael,” he said.

Sophomore Austin Talamantes also has had a difficult time mastering his character Leonard’s voice.

“I’m trying to make him sound really weird, but with the voice I’m doing it’s hard to enunciate,” Talamantes said.

Leonard—a paranoid, practicing psychiatrist who’s been driven insane by listening to his patients—thinks there’s a pattern with the lights going on and off in his neighbors’ apartments.

“When he gets nervous about stuff, he draws into himself and starts scratching his arm,” Talamantes said.

But while Talamantes says he is intentionally portraying Leonard as weird, he wants to avoid associating the character with a mental illness.

“I’m not trying to offend people, so I need to do some research on paranoia and look to see if his mannerisms could be considered quirks and not symptoms,” he said.

In “Seven Stories” not only are the characters unique, the set is as well.

The entirety of the play is limited to a 3-foot high, “seventh-story” ledge with a facade of seven functional windows.

To create the set, Frishman is employing a contractor found through an advertisement in the Sacramento Regional Theater Association magazine.

Frishman and the actors have a little more than two weeks to transform the modest MP room stage into a seven-story building.

And by the debut, on  Friday, Dec. 12, Frishman will be sitting in the front row, laughing at the characters he helped create.

Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.

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