Under the Lights is a showcase for College of Charleston theatre student work. Ten of the best shorts from the theater department are staged for the general public, partly as a learning process for the participants, but also as a piece of entertainment for Piccolo audiences.

While several of the plays have won awards, the overall production is an inevitable mixed bag of sophomoric comedy and heartfelt drama. The 10 plays last 10 minutes each and are carefully structured with a beginning, middle, and (usually satisfying) end. The show moves fast, and the Chapel Theatre stage is split into four or five sets per act – albeit simple sets consisting of a table, desk or bar.

Without complex scenic design, lighting or outré costumes to dazzle the audience, the writing is left naked and raw for us to sample. The cream of the crop includes Peter Dupuis’ My Small Model Home, a comedy about a vexed time-share salesman. Dupuis crams a lengthy anecdote, office humor, and slapstick into his short. Henry Riggs’ It’s Not Delivery involves two gangsters interrupted mid-interrogation by a pizza girl. Riggs and Kaytlin Bailey’s Under My Skin presents a series of tiny vignettes charting the lives of its characters; a surprise twist helps make it the best play in the show.

There’s also Breaking Down, a cleverly written drama by Trisha Bruynell, and High School Tragedy, a messy comedy with touches of brilliance. Writer and star Matt Giedraitis mocks Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, English lit, senior prom rituals and romantic expectations in this fun-packed epic. It even has a slo-mo fight scene and musical interludes — not bad for a 10 minute tale. It just needs director Liz Coralli to keep the action consistent.

Only a couple of the scenes are disappointing. The opening play, Bailey’s Don’t Shoot the Monkeys, sets up a fascinating father-daughter relationship but lacks the emotional punch it seeks. Kracell Reown’s Paternal Eternal seems too slight, although it has a neat concept. H.S. Halsey’s Mongolian Beef doesn’t work, with its overwritten monologues and underconfident lead actress (Elizabeth Bays).

Bays fares better in other roles, particularly as Julia in High School Tragedy. Student actors play multiple roles, with George Patrick McLeer showing versatility in the first three plays and Caleb Stokes providing mature support in several different parts. It’s a testament to his acting skills that he can be taken seriously despite wearing a horrible green shirt and tie.

McLeer and Alex Hoffman are very funny as the confused gangsters in It’s Not Delivery, smoothly directed by Coralli. Jessica McLellan maintains the frenetic pace of Under My Skin, directed by Matt Giedraitis. And Meredith Potter makes a great non-nonsense FBI agent in the Tarantinoesque The Gambler’s Bounty, written and directed by Noah Smith.
With more hits than misses, Under the Lights is worth seeing if only to admire the inspiration and perspiration of its CofC creators.

Under the Lights (OR 10×10) • Piccolo’s Stelle Di Domani Series • $12-15 • 1 hour 30 min. • May 28, June 2, 3 at 8 p.m. • Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • (888) 374-2656

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