The engineering students guide to time travel: W24 Eng Play Review


This term’s engineering play, titled The Engineering Student’s Guide to Time Travel, was put on in the Hagey Hall Auditorium last weekend on April 6 and 7. Only playing on Back to the Future ironically, the approximately 120-minute, two-act show was impressively original. It was exceedingly silly, terribly vulgar, and witty in the best of ways. There was even a point where I got goosebumps and watery eyes. In the few instances where it felt unrealistic, or when there was an ever-so-slight stutter over lines, it was overshadowed by laughter and intrigue. Overall, it was a joyous way to spend a Sunday night, and, being tremendously happy to have bought a ticket, I recommend readers attend future engineering plays. 

Following a group of UW engineers from various adversarial departments squabbling over the consequences of time travel, the play used time as a narrative device that put characters in comical situations, while also posing questions relevant to UW students, such as “is it moral to use Chegg?” It principally follows the interdimensional journey of eight students who made up the lead cast, and specifically, the academic failures of December Spankoffski (Stephanie De Pol), who will do anything to pass her physics exam – anything. In spite of extreme hesitation and warnings from her friend Remi (Barton Lu) against using “Valeria,” the name of the time machine built by peers Rowan (Kim Hoang) and Elliot (Senan Gaffori), she nonetheless decides to change the space time continuum, eluding the attention of the others who were too busy condemning Remi to keep watch of the machine. Amidst the chaos of whatever science guides the essence of time travel, December brings along Jamie (Zach Betts), Peyton (Daekun Kim), and the latter’s beloved robot, Sofia (Riya Dhillon). In traveling back to a time before she wrote her exam, in which she received a seven per cent from her doctoral professor, December is able to use her future knowledge of the questions (and Chegg) to pass with a resounding 65.5 per cent. The rest of the cast, however, is much more concerned with returning Valeria to its own timeline, and preserving the universe, than with December’s “f*cking exam.” 

A professional Broadway show cannot be expected from a faculty student association. As engineers, it is somewhat astounding that so many put in such time, effort, focus and passion into an artistic endeavour. But within the engineering society, it is a tradition. The society’s Youtube channel (featuring old videos that everyone should watch) has footage of plays dating back to the fall of 2009, though presumably, the first play dates back far earlier than that. Being in arts, I am somewhat disappointed that we cannot match this level of faculty-coordinated showmanship. But alas, like other experiences in my undergrad, I decided to role play as an engineer. 

Two love stories simultaneously unfolded as the play progressed. Jamie, a SYDE student who embodies the most exaggerated stereotypes of shy, awkward guys in STEM, is head over heels for Andi (Maya Wei), one of the most popular girls in engineering. At first, when Jamie “approaches” her group of friends (with more of a drunken march than a swaggering walk), he is laughed at after not forming a coherent sentence. But after getting shot back in time, he finds much more success with this timelines version of Andi compared to his own, after claiming to have beaten up a pack of Laurier engineers guided by “the dark one.” Peyton, in creating Sofia, quickly falls deeply in love with it in the most sad and dystopian ways, but is consistently rejected by the emotionless nature of her creation. Eventually, the writers allow Sofia to express emotions towards Peyton at the very moment when the group, needing the battery inside to get back to the future, is forced to sacrifice her. What follows is a genuinely sad moment of lost love that made me shed a tear. The rowdy audience, who had spent the last hour heckling and laughing out loud, watched on in relative silence. When they made it back to their own time, crisis was averted (save for December getting caught cheating, or, “chegging”), the emotional pull of chaos and confusion felt relatively resolved – a testament to the strength of the writing and direction. 

The play was written and directed by a trio of engineering students: Cam Barré, Alysha Law, and Jenny Yu. When all was said and done, and the performers took their final bows, these three were greeted with an outpour of applause from the 200 or so audience members, and a bouquet of flowers from the cast. The appreciation was well deserved. The play had excellent narrative progression and character development, seamlessly weaving hilarious archetypes of UW students into the story. For the average writer, it is very difficult to bring to life several characters who have been developed substantially enough for the audience to feel an attachment towards; consequently, productions like these will oftentimes only have three or four lead roles. But in this year’s ENG play, eight lead roles were able to share the stage together in a manner that did not feel forced or condensed, with each character having a function to the plot and something interesting (and funny) to say. 

Every writer knows that their brilliance of thought is nothing without proper execution. It is a good thing that the trio in this year’s ENG play had spirited acting performances that brought words to life and performed with impeccable comedic timing. I am not a huge fan of relying on curse words to arouse laughter, but here, it worked more often than not. De Pol as December was eye-catching; her body language was impossible not to notice whenever on stage, and the way in which she seemed to portray genuine anger immersed me deeply. Gaffori as Elliot was another highlight, playing the “straight man” who often acted as the sane, rational electrical computing engineer in the midst of insanity. His dialogues with December and Jamie were hilarious, providing deadpan responses and a few well-timed fits of frustration. Lastly, a star performance came from Dhillon as Peyton’s robot, Sofia. Moving with impeccable robotic grace, Sofia spoke quickly in monotone, only using speech inflections at the end once her emotions had been unlocked. As Sofia, Dhillon not only memorized hundreds of semantically complex lines, but performed them in a way that was sharp, quick, and without hesitation. There were a couple of instances where words were tripped over, but this was rare and hardly took away from the scene. Her performance made it easy to forget I was looking at a human being. The other five lead roles and background characters, such as Doctor Brown (Ruth McGuire) and the Dark One (Muzammiluddin Syed), also stood out during their time on stage. 

And the music! The complex display of singing and choreography was astounding. There were nine musical numbers in total, all based off of songs in other productions – with a UW engineering spin on each. Similar to Handel’s ‘Giulio Cesare’, the characters break the fourth wall by being conscious of and acknowledging the music itself. When Valeria arrives in the pre-exam era, the four of them are immediately greeted to a festive rendition of “La Dee Dah Dah Day” (from Team StarKid’s The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals), reacting with confusion and fear, never having had a musical number sung at them in their own timeline. Mariah (Amanda Hartwig) stole the show here, showcasing tremendous vocal range, and was at the forefront of a choreographed segment that was hilariously chaotic for the time travellers. But the standout musical act, the performance that had the entire auditorium hollering, was the rendition of “To Be a Man” (from Team StarKid’s Holy Musical B@man). Breaking out into song and dance in the midst of intense confrontation with the spooky Laurier engineers, Jamie stands up to them, going toe to toe with their leader (Acoy Campbell). During the infamous chorus, they moved in perfect rhythm to the music, while threatening, in polite terms, to kick each other’s butt as a myriad of middle fingers were raised. The choreography for this bit was stellar, and added a great deal of comedic value, especially in the dramatic shuffle step motion that each character did in unison to the threat of butt kicking. Other performances, such as Peyton’s “Sofia’s Song” and Jamie’s “Andi,” were more solemn and emotional in tone, heightening the drama of their respective love stories. I was not expecting such melodic flare from the eng play, but was thoroughly pleased with what I heard.

Lastly, the technical production should be commended. The Hagey Hall auditorium, finally seeing the limelight after months of renovation and shut downs, is back and better than ever, and this production took full advantage. Colours and shades evolved seamlessly and gracefully, being used for specific narrative purposes. The lighting (Alexander Hayhoe) controlled the stage with such technical precision that its ability to manipulate time ought to be investigated. In between scenes, the stage management (Emilia Zerbe) was smooth and did not meaningfully remove me from the narrative in such a way that broke the fourth wall to remind me I was watching a play. In times where transitions were lengthy, the entertaining music made up for it. Sound Tech (Christhpher Rzepka and Lucas Delvoye) was flawless, no doubt aided by the auditorium’s new and improved systems. With the play previously being held in the Arts Lecture Hall, Hagey Hall brought bigger and better possibilities that the directors and production managers took near full advantage of.

Overall, it was a very impressive production. I am happy that the engineers have an outlet to express themselves emotionally, as they are clearly anxious about their exams and the morality of breaking the space-time continuum. I rate An Engineering Student’s Guide to Time Travel 4.5 out of 5 stars, and would recommend the ENG play to students of all faculties in future terms.