“College: According to Roman,” a play written by Wordshop, a creative writing club at the College, is hilarious. The student writers packed every moment with jokes — most of them stinging insults from the show’s sly lead character. However, many times these jokes come at the expense of the plot; the play focuses on manufacturing laughs rather than a storyline. It does succeed in its goal of being funny and entertaining, however, and proves biting and sometimes even insightful in its portrayal of college life.
The play chronicles the experiences of Roman, a College freshman portrayed by junior Dan Piepenbring. Independent and equipped with an acid tongue, he finds himself living with Dominic (freshman Lamar Shambley), a wide receiver on the football team who refers to himself as “The Dominator.” A stereotypical womanizer, he immediately enrolls in the freshman seminar Reading the Romance. Ian (junior Dean Edwards), Roman’s nerdy hallmate, obsesses over his professional future as a scientist. Both share an interest in Sally (sophomore Mary McGillvray), a fellow freshman who shares a class with each of them. The story is told through bits of stage-acting, Roman’s diary entries read aloud and video clips.
p. Roman encounters many of the situations that any normal College freshman would. He has problems with his obnoxious, egotistical roommate. He detests his Orientation Aide, who is just a little too peppy for his (or anyone’s) taste, and, like any freshman, he drags himself through the dreaded mixers. He goes to his first fraternity dance party, and Sally becomes his first college girlfriend.
p. While the show portrays common freshman events reinterpreted through the eyes of upperclassmen, the play does not aim to be a social commentary. The reenactments do bring back memories, but the play strives for a higher goal than any kind of scholarly understanding of the social lives of freshmen: humor. The play centers on the life of a freshman solely as a mechanism to set up jokes.
p. Piepenbring’s portrayal of Roman is an interesting choice indicative of the intentions of “College.” Going into the play, one would expect the stereotypical naive, innocent young man who falls into a whole heap of trouble through no fault of his own. Initially, Roman does come off this way, displaying dance moves a la Prince at the first frat party and being as gracious as possible to his fellow freshmen. However, Roman’s character quickly changes to something of a Woody Allen-type, only meaner. He shares Allen’s style of spouting off one-liners that no one will understand in the middle of conversations, and his jokes are often very cruel. Although they are funny, one struggles to understand why anyone would want to be friends with Roman after he has directed a couple of insults their way.
p. The decision to use video clips in place of actual scenes is hit-and-miss. Some videos are well-done, but others are hampered by poor lighting and audio quality. However, the best scene does turn out to be one of the pre-recorded ones. In it, Dominic’s girlfriend, Sparta, and Roman are walking through Colonial Williamsburg late at night. As the two chat about Roman’s relationship with Sally, Wordshop works in a great combination of both humorous and serious dialogue. When Sparta asks if Roman has even seen Sally naked in what has become a month-old relationship, he replies, “Yeah, I saw her boobs through a window once.” This scene showcases Wordshop at its best and the play living up to its full potential; the group manages to write both jokes and a great narrative at once.
p. The roles are well-handled across the board. Piepenbring is acerbic and witty; one senses he is playing himself. Shambley, even though his character is a complete stereotype, routinely outshines everyone in his scenes and provides some of the biggest laughs the play has to offer. McGillvray, as the straight one for most of the jokes and the only member of the cast who has to manage any serious acting, is very good. Edwards gets off to a slow start; his timing seems to be off. He recovers wonderfully, though, and showcases a talent for physical comedy, especially in trying to use his wallet to make a drunken telephone call to his dog.
p. The play’s weakest point is in its neglect of character arcs. While featured prominently in the first act, Dominic and Ian are almost wholly dropped from the second half of the show. By this time, the viewer has become interested in the characters and can’t help but wonder what has happened to them. Wordshop seems to only have use for characters that can be brought in for gags, and when all of those gags have been used up, the characters are forgotten.
Despite some minor flaws, “College: According to Roman” is an enjoyable play and an impressive achievement for any author, let alone a group of college students working on it as an extracurricular activity. When the show wants to, it can be a heartfelt comedy, and the performances are wholly well-delivered.