Pair of Carroll Community plays let audiences up close and personal

There was a stage upon a stage at Carroll Community College's Scott Center on Tuesday night as risers added another dimension, giving the venue the feel of an old-fashioned operating theater.

The set, a cage-like metal diamond with chrome metal pendant lights, can serve as a warehouse, a dining hall or the lobby of a restaurant where two young people who used to date have an awkward encounter — in any case, the audience is up close and personal.


Tuesday was the college theater program's dress rehearsal for upcoming productions of "Reasons to Be Pretty," and "Reasons to Be Happy," two one-act plays by Neil LaBute. When the plays premiere — "Pretty" on Thursday evening and "Happy" on Friday — the limited 60-seat audience will be right at the edge of the action, which centers on four young people as they navigate life and relationships in their early 20s, according to director Bill Gillett.

"It makes the audience more connected to the piece," Gillett said. "What we have learned is that the big spaces are more remote and formal, and you lose a little bit of that connection to the audience you get if you let them sit in on the action."

"Pretty" focuses on four young people, Kent and Carley and Greg and Steph, according to Gillett. Stephanie and Greg have been in a long-term relationship for four years when it is coming to an abrupt end "because he let slip to a friend that he thought her face was regular," Gillett said. "That was enough to just throw Steph over the deep end."

It's a breakup story that will be directly relatable to many people in their 20s, according to Claire Wink, the 20-year-old Carroll Community student who plays Stephanie in "Pretty," but it's something she believes anyone can understand.

"I think a lot of the people can see Steph as kind of psychotic and crazy, but … hearing the person she loves more than anything tell someone that she's not beautiful, but that she's just regular and he finds other people more attractive is just heartbreaking," Wink said. "Every girl wants to be the most beautiful to the person they are with."

"Happy" picks up the stories of the same four characters three years later, according to Gillett, and four different actors play the slightly older characters.

"Steph in the future realizes that she made a mistake; she's not as happy as she thought she would be by leaving Greg," said Nicole Sliwka, who plays Stephanie in "Happy." "She comes back to try and give it one more try."

Sliwka herself is giving it another try. Currently a theater student at Towson University, she graduated from Carroll Community a year ago, but said she came back to perform because she loves the theater program here. She said it is the most realistic play she has ever read, an observation also made by Gillett.

"The play requires this really very realistic style, a lot of overlapping dialogue. It's very hyper-realistic in its portrayal as you get into the lives of these characters," he said. "It's really about four very ordinary people, but in that ordinary life, you find really great fascination with their troubles and what they are dealing with. It's got a lot of humor, it's got a lot of poignancy."

That hyper-realism can make the play very engaging at times and even challenging at others, according to Gillett. He said the frequent use of "common vernacular" language makes it unsuitable for children or sensitive patrons, but the intimate seating arrangements enhance and amplify the experience either way.

"It's almost like we are in a fish tank or a cage," said Ben Hopkins, the 19-year-old Carroll Community theater student who plays Greg in "Happy."

"Our lives are contained — we can see the audience, but we are in this fish tank and they are viewing us like they are at the zoo or the aquarium. That's what I think is really interesting."

Purchasing a ticket for a showing of "Pretty" also gets the patron into the next available performance of "Happy," according to Gillett, and tickets for the shows — $10 general admission, $5 for students and seniors — are available at the theater box office or online at the Carroll Community website. He does, however, suggest patrons show up before the show starts to claim tickets purchased online.

"They got to get there early, if they want to get a good seat," he said. "Seating is first come, first served."



If you go:

What: Carroll Community College's productions of "Reasons to Be Pretty" and "Reasons to Be Happy," both by Neil LaBute.

When: "Reasons to Be Pretty" showings at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8, 6 p.m. Oct. 10 and 2 p.m. Oct. 11; "Reasons to Be Happy" showings at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, 3:30 p.m. Oct 11

Where: Carroll Community College Scott Center, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster

Cost: $10 general admission, $5 for students and seniors 65 and older

For more information or to purchase tickets online, go to