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‘Gaieties 2021: LE-LAND!’ emphasizes tradition and community

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This year’s Gaieties marks the first in-person production for Ram’s Head Theatrical Society since the start of the pandemic. “Gaieties 2021: LE-LAND!,” from start to finish, commented both on students’ love and qualms for this strange place in the middle of Silicon Valley. The jokes were incredibly topical, touching on the new neighborhood system and the struggles of three classes of “frosh.” Sprinkled with puns and occasional political nods, this year’s Gaieties maintains its well-known presence as a Stanford staple full of laughs. 

The halls of Memorial Auditorium rang with the voices of attendees waiting for the performance to start. After entering the building, you could hear the roaring yells of the cast and crew as they prepared and celebrated their performance that was only minutes away. 

“I feel very excited because it is the first live theater I have seen in two years,” said Riley Plaut-Deweese ’25 as he waited for Gaieties to start. Johnny Rabe ’22 and Ryan Yu ’23 were head director and producer for the show, respectively.

After the lights dimmed and curtains rose to a dark set, we were all welcomed to the bright lights of a gameshow run by Oski the Bear, Berekley’s 115th annual Game show “So You Wanna Destroy Stanford.” The most cunning of the three contestants and eventual winner/villain, Leena, played by Sarah Lewis ‘24, works with her intern, Josh, played by Bai-han Zhang ‘25, to develop a device called the Cal-cifier that pulls Stanford into a parallel universe known as LE-LAND. Leena goes on a spree, zapping everything in sight with her Cal-cifier, and four Stanford students are caught in the crossfire. The students, Iza (Ariyanna Wesley ’25), Avery (Jaden Southern ’25), Kawika (David Nainoa Visperas ’25) and Sergei (Cameron Krouch ’25), are brought together by fate to stop the villain’s plan and find their way home.

The villains shine in this year’s Gaieties. Leena is sold as a compelling evil Cal student through Lewis’ passion and magical wardrobe changes. In one memorable scene, Leena throws her jacket and pants on the ground to dramatically reveal a golden dress, breaking into song as she is accompanied by an ensemble of dancers in playboy bunny-esque dresses. Lewis truly claimed the stage, even improvising in response to unanticipated audience comments. Zhang similarly aces his role as the trusty evil sidekick. His dry comedic delivery shines in Zhang’s performance as the intern when he unexpectedly declares his love for a tree in a cheeky monologue. 

Just as there were compelling villains, there was compelling romance. Wesley and Southern work well as a stage couple. Their love was believable, with realistic development that crescendoed to their eventual kiss and confession of love. Their emotional duet made the audience audibly “AWW!” in satisfaction and glee. 

In all its chaos, the show makes it clear that despite the adversities faced during the pandemic, Stanford’s community remains strong, having kept in touch with the traditions that make this place like no other. “LE-LAND” reminds us that home is about people, not place, just as Gaieties 2020 tried to do through its unique digital format. This year’s show certainly emphasizes the frosh experience, but these references were largely well-received by all in attendance, regardless of their class year. 

For example, when I first arrived on campus, I didn’t know why people were afraid of Governor’s Corner, formerly the home of Freshman Sophomore College (FroSoCo). But, Gaieties cleverly explained this history, parodying this fear physically with a joke and haunting storyline. The references continue with Enchanted Broccoli Forest (EBF), a seemingly outlandish name that the writers cleverly use as a set inspiration towards the beginning of the show. Head writers, Steven Opferman ’23 and Emma Parsons ’23,  must have worked meticulously with their fellow staff writers to successfully encapsulate Stanford’s past and present with their writing.

These Stanford-specific jokes are complemented by modern-day references that further ground the story. Political humor, like Senator Bernie Sanders’ “I endorse this message” and Vice President Kamala Harris’ “We did it, Joe!” make appearances, and a reference to “Defying Gravity” is included for diehard theater fans. 

Gaieties’ script is strong, but so is its set. Designer Kiki Hood ’23 took creative leaps to make beautiful visual elements; the audience is brought into the different scenes not by set-pieces but rather by large LED panels that display pixelated versions of palm trees or main quad. It was a welcomed surprise that reminded me “this is Stanford.” The show introduces technology into the theatrical space in a way that is unobtrusive and adds to the story. 

And no good musical is complete without good music. Roaring orchestral music throughout the show lets the audience connect with characters and sets a 1920’s energy with notes of jazz and blues during some scenes. Kawika performs melodic singing that pulls at the audience’s heartstrings with a moving ballad. Leena’s character had a similarly powerful performance with her euphoric singing.

While it would be near impossible to capture all the elements of campus culture, the writers’ choices were well-thought-out, all embodying key aspects of Stanford tradition and its community. I resonated with the show’s ending, which makes it clear that community is what unites the student body, not an acceptance letter. All in all, this year’s Gaieties was a love letter to Stanford and all the bonds made here, old and new, firmly marking itself in tradition and perseverance. 

Gaieties still has two performances left, with shows on Nov. 18 and 19 at 7 p.m.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

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