VST production offers a comedic escape from midterms



Larry Flynn

Dim the lights. 

This story begins in St. Mary’s Hall, through narrow corridors into a black-box theatre, the heart of Villanova Student Theatre. In this secluded corner of campus blossomsw the evolution of talented actors and a rookie director who is not afraid to take creative risks. 

Cue the lights.

Or, just maybe, VST’s production of It Runs in the Family (live on campus, Feb. 16-20) is just a comedic escape for directors and actors alike.

“The world can be very mundane,” Director Anthony Massina said. “But comedy adds levity to everyday situation through laughter.”

The play, written by Ray Cooney and ACS-approved, explores themes of lying, family, and religion through the character of Dr. David Mortimore. While preparing to receive a prestigious award, David discovers he had a son with one of his nurses 18 years ago. As he navigates the slippery slope of fibbing and fabrication, David’s cycle of lies aim to hide his darkest secrets in pursuit of personal fame. But don’t be fooled – this play is ultimately about the humor that exists in such serious matters.

It’s this quick-witted humor that inspired junior Luke Hensley’s stellar performance of David. 

“I’m not a very outwardly funny person, but I love the dry, sardonic, subtle humor characteristic of British comedy,” Hensley said.  “Though we’ve changed the accents, locations, and a lot of the lines to fit a New York setting, the humor remains decidedly British. I think the play will resonate with fans of that subtle blend of understatement and hysteria seen in shows like The Office.”

It has been a new episode in Hensley’s experienced acting career at Villanova, who said he has “never had more lines in a show.”

If Hensley is the wily veteran in this play, consider Massina a directing rookie. Scratch that. A directing protégé. 

A junior in the school of business, Massina decided he needed to unleash his creative potential. Last summer, he attended the prestigious UCB Comedy Club and took screenwriting classes at New York University in order to emulate his comedy writing heroes such as Bill Murray, John Beluchi, and Chris Farley. 

“I enjoy business school,” Massina said. “But sometimes day-to-day work can be bland. I like having access to creative outlets.”

Directing a play for Massina, however, also informs his emerging business career.

“Business owners direct people,” Massina said. “I want to direct people, but in a creative way as well. This play allowed me to show and refine my leadership skills.”

Forget the business background. On his own time, Massina has built a particularly illustrious improv resume, one which has helped direct “It Runs in the Family.” 

“In improv, actors try to make their peers on stage look good,” Massina said. “Improv is based to predicting how scenes should go and, in a way, I’m building scenes in improv. It’s as if everyone is directing the scene.”

Massina’s actors have looked up to him as an inspiration, most notably Sam Mazzarelli who plays the role of David’s wife, Rosemary.

“As someone who is horrible at improv, I was pretty much in awe coming in knowing that [Massina] had a background in improv,” Mazzarelli said. “He brought out a comedic side of me I didn’t think existed, and I wouldn’t have been able to make Rosemary as fully-rounded of a character as she is if it hadn’t been for his direction.”

The actors have ultimately taken matters into their own hands, transforming a collective cast of individual actors into, well, a family. 

“It’s a great environment where everyone got to share their opinion and contribute to the creation of this show, and that’s something I really respect,” Mazzarelli said. “[Massina] always emphasized that everyone in the show should always have each other’s backs.”

Her director agrees.

“In some shows I’ve seen,” Massina said, “the acting can be very individualistic. But this cast is working as a unit. This show isn’t based around one character taking the spotlight. Instead, this show builds through each individual character forming one cohesive unity of comedy.”

No lie.

The cast – I mean family – has enjoyed this experience with one another. The members of this comedic family have enjoyed sharing jokes with one another in the play’s production. 

This tight-knit family hopes “It Runs in the Family” hopes students will make their way to St. Mary’s Theatre this week to relieve their stress, consider the relationship between truth and lie, and maybe just laugh a little. 

“I think humor is such a powerful thing, because it lets people forget about their problems, even if it’s just for the split second,” Mazzarelli said. “People coming to see “It Runs in the Family” have the opportunity to just forget about their problems for two hours and just enjoy themselves.”