School of Acting’s 'This' explores friendships and infidelity

The five young actors in Academy of Art University’s upcoming production of This, might not seem to have much in common with their older characters in the Obie award-winning play by Melissa James Gibson. This revolves around four long-time, seemingly successful friends—and one new acquaintance—on the cusp of middle age who are having some regrets about the paths they’ve followed. When two of the characters commit adultery, all of them must examine their friendships and their lives.

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Image courtesy of the School of Acting.

“We had some conversations about changing the ages but decided to keep them the way they were written,” said Clark Houston-Lewis, Academy of Art University School of Acting instructor and the play’s director. “For the actors, it’s challenging and exciting to use their imaginations to project about things they haven’t yet experienced. I can help them with some things, but with others, once I explain the circumstances, they [instinctively] understand what their character is going through.” 

Mario Mazzetti, who plays Alan, a mnemonist (someone with a photographic memory who recalls things he’s seen or heard just once exactly the way they occurred) said he relates to his character in spite of their age difference. Alan is a bit older than his friends in the play and serves as a commentator and voice of wisdom. At 29, Mazzetti is the oldest member of the cast and the only graduate student in the play. Both he and Alan are also gay.  

“Alan’s sort of sassy and I’m sort of sassy,” quipped Mazzetti. “He’s smart and I like to think I’m smart.”

The other cast members include undergraduate acting students Carlos Carrillo (Jean Pierre), Zoe Foulks (Jane), Roman Reyes (Tom) and Tiffani Williams (Merrell).

Williams said she finds her character’s energy appealing. “Merrell is a perfectionist and has a strategy about life but she loves really, really hard,” she remarked. “I’m enjoying that. She loves the people in her life and wants things to be perfect all the time. ” 

According to Lewis, doing intimate, character-driven plays such as This gives actors an opportunity to strengthen their skills in a way that isn’t always possible in bigger productions with many actors and short scenes. 

“The students get to work their acting muscles through lots of interaction and long-form scenes,” he explained. “They get to develop their characters in the course of those two hours on stage and in doing eight shows.”

Lewis is also a huge fan of Gibson’s writing. She doesn’t use punctuation but relies on very precise language to guide actors.  

“Word by word, the way she puts things, and the way she structures phrases, helps the actors do their work and know when to make connections to something that may have happened three scenes earlier,” he explained. “They get to decide if something is a question or a statement, but she gives them signposts, too. It’s a wonderful thing to play with and the actors are really enjoying it.”

Williams described Gibson’s writing as poetic, with a rhythm that reminded her of Shakespeare. Mazzetti, who performed professionally in musicals before returning to school to earn his M.F.A., said the script had an almost musical quality. He also appreciates the power of Gibson’s writing. 

“We’ve been really conscious about not paraphrasing lines or making changes,” he noted. “Clark’s been very specific about telling us that if you say a line the way you think you should say it, that’s probably the way it’s meant to be said. Don’t try and force meaning on a line.”


This will run Nov. 9–18 at 620 Sutter Street. Performances start at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday., and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free for Academy students and faculty. General admission tickets are available at the door for $15.