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Two brothers and an ex-girlfriend spend a weekend in a hotel room full of sexual tension, confusion and discovery.
No, you’re not witnessing your best friend’s awkward dorm room love triangle. You’re watching a scene from the dark comedy “The Optimist,” which opened Thursday on Waller Hall mainstage.
The play, written by former Indiana University of Pennsylvania theater faculty member Jason Chimonides, takes place over the course of one weekend when 25-year-old Noel Hennessey returns home to Tallahassee, Fla.
Noel must deal with the death of his best friend, his philandering father’s impending nuptials and the reappearance of the love of his life, Nicole.
Accompanied by his childish fraternal twin brother, Declan, Noel and Nicole find themselves in an old motel room where they must confront unfinished romance, a womanizing father and the threat of impending adulthood.
During the course of the play, Noel fights to conquer the past in order to find his place in an uncertain future.
Noel, played by Matthew Smith (junior, theater and political science), originally loses Nicole because he is struggling with the death of his mother and best friends, loss of Nicole and remarriage of his father.
During the play, Nicole accuses Noel of being an optimist, not because he has a positive outlook on life but because he expects everything in life to be the way he expects it to be and can’t deal with the fact that life isn’t like that.
“I think Noel uses his time in the motel room with Nicole and Declan to ask for help in some small way,” Smith said. “Noel may not even know that, because it’s not very obvious.”
Declan, played by Ken Singleton (junior, musical theater), was actually modeled after someone Chimonides knew in school. Ryland Blackinton, who later went on to become the guitarist for pop group Cobra Starship, was a friend of Chimonides during the writing of the play.
Singleton said that he was ecstatic to be playing the manic, intelligent Declan and immediately connected with the role.
“I felt like I needed to play the role,” Singleton said. “Declan is bipolar type two and very intelligent so he uses huge words most people – me included – don’t understand.”
Nicole, played by Lydia Gibson (senior, musical theater), stays in the motel room with the brothers despite Declan’s manic ways and Noel’s unresolved issues.
“Declan makes it difficult to get away from him because he is so crazy,” Gibson said. “He creates obstacles, both physical and verbal, that keep Nicole and Noel from leaving the room.”
Chimonides actually wrote the play 10 years ago while he was in grad school studying theater directing and taking a playwriting class with Marc Medoff, a Tony Award winner for his play “Children of a Lesser God.”
The class offered him a chance to write a play and take it through all the stages of production until opening night.
Despite being the playwright, Chimonides was barely involved in the IUP production of his play. He was only present for a few days in the beginning of rehearsals for the read-throughs.
“It has been my preference not to be too involved,” Chimonides said. “I’ve worked with a lot of the students before, and they were just like, ‘We’re done with you, Jason, just leave.’”
But Chimonides knew he had left the play in very competent hands.
The play’s director, April Daras, has been a well-known friend of his since their days studying acting and directing at Florida State University together.
“We reconnected for a couple of lunches over the summer,” Chimonides said. “ [April] knows me so well and fell in love with the play for itself by separating it from what she knew of me.
The cast loved working with Daras as well. “It has been an absolute treasure to work with April,” Gibson said. “We have all developed a close relationship with her because we’re such a small cast, and she knows how to work with us in such a way that she brings things out of us that we didn’t think we could reach.”
The Optimist is relevant to IUP audiences because it takes place right after college where there is a period of time that students must launch themselves into the world and have more freedom.
Those are the kinds of dynamics kids at IUP may be confronting, according to Chimonides, and they have to dig inside and figure out who they are.
However, Chimonides would never put one moral on his story.
“Every artist who is worth their smack talk would say you get what you get from a production,” Chimonides said. “I want to honor people’s gut responses because it has different meanings for different people.”
The show will continue its run on Oct. 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12.
Regular admission tickets are $14, senior citizens are $12 and I-Card holders, students and children are $9. Tickets are being sold in the Hadley Union Building box office.