Student Production Takes on Challenging Play

From left to right: Director David Sharpe, stage manager Ashlee Ramey, and actor Samuel Wood watch as the other actors rehearse.

Twice a year, Radford University offers a “Hawes Studio Theater Production” which features a student director, cast and crew with limited input from faculty. Beginning on February 15, a gritty, sexually charged and occasionally brutal play, Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp, will be helmed by David Sharpe, a senior in Theater and Psychology. 

“When the committee asked what sort of play I’d be interested in doing,” Sharpe explained, “I said a show based in realism that deals with uncomfortable topics that are important to talk about.” 

Red Light Winter certainly fits that bill.  

Reviews of the play, which premiered in 2005, frequently use terms like “unflinching,” “not for the faint of heart,” and “graphic.” However, these are descriptive terms, not disparaging ones. 

The intense drama explores the relationship between Davis, an arrogant, selfish, and bullying editor, and Matt, a melancholy writer struggling with self-worth, confidence, and action. Caught in the middle is Christine, a sex worker with a complex life, who falls for Davis, though it is Matt who loves her. 

Sharpe says a play like this creates challenges in both content and staging as a result of the play’s often raw and physical nature. 

“This play tackles mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” he said.  

“It shows how it can be hard to see past sadness and loneliness, which results in unhealthy obsessions and warping reality.” 

Chris Kobersteen and Drue Maggio prepare for an intense scene as Davis and Christine.

Given the mature themes of the play, Sharpe relied on the expertise of Associate Professor Robyn Berg, a trained intimacy choreographer, to help prepare the actors. 

Berg led the cast through a boundary workshop to clarify how, where and when to use their bodies at their own comfort level in service to the storytelling of the play. 

“After that was established, I choreographed a few different scenes that required close contact amongst the actors,” Berg explained.  

“The goal is to use very neutral language and truly treat it as choreography like you would with dancing or stage combat.” 

To ensure the actor’s safety and comfort, Sharpe made sure to use carefully considered language and began each rehearsal with a "fight call” to make sure the scenes work smoothly. 

Drue Maggio, who plays Christine, saw two primary hurdles while preparing her role and rehearsing. 

“On the emotional side, Christine is very vulnerable and it was definitely a challenge to completely open myself up to everything she experiences throughout the play,” she said. 

“But I know it is important to tell her story, so I use that as my driving force.” 

Additionally, there is a moment in the play when Christine sings. Maggio put stage singing aside for many years because growing up in New York, she felt a draining pressure to sing on stage. 

“The more I was pushed, the less singing became fun,” she said. "But as Christina I have to sing, and it’s definitely nerve racking.” 


Chris Kobersteen’s main test has been playing a very unlikable character. 

“Davis lacks empathy,” he said. “I am naturally a very sympathetic person, so playing Davis has been harder than I had initially thought.” 

In contrast, Sam Wood must play a character who is arguably too empathetic and has trouble with processing his emotions in a healthy way. 

“Matt is a talented playwright stuck in writer's block,” said Wood. “Because he can’t do what he feels he’s best at, he develops heavy depression and insomnia.” 

“Getting into Matt's mindset for rehearsals and performances can lead to some pretty dark places.” 

But it is worth it, Woods says. 

“I love this play and how it pushes boundaries that force audience members to reflect and ask themselves important questions on the drive home from a show.” 

And while the play has some hefty themes and is definitely for mature audiences only, it also has moments of dry humor to balance this weight. 

“I love the overall humor scattered throughout the play,” Kobersteen says. “It brings a sort of comfort in an otherwise dark play.” 

Red Light Winter will run from February 15 through February 18 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, February 19 at 2:00 p.m. in the Bondurant Auditorium in Preston Hall. 

Admission is free. 

Feb 14, 2023
Sean J Kotz