Staged in the Center for Dramatic Art’s Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, the play is the brain-child of professor David Navalinsky, senior dramatic art major Jackson Bloom and UNC alumna Ali Evarts. The play is still being developed — Tuesday’s performance was a reading without props.
The trio structured the show with a six-person cast, consisting of a narrator, a kind of ring-master and a quartet of student athletes who shared their perceptions about attending UNC.
What instantly stands out about the performance is the element of conversation it generates. The writers took the show’s dialogue almost entirely from roughly 30 interviews with student athletes, fashioning it into a cohesive form to give the play structure.
This brought a tremendous reality to the world of the play and made the pauses, stutters and verbal fillers in each monologue fascinating to hear. The audience could easily feel the frustration and lamentations expressed by the athletes, almost getting to follow them in their emotional trajectory.
Although the dialogue was real and visceral, the character of the ringmaster interjected a comedic element into the athlete’s discussion, parodying everything from the crocodile hunter to Jeopardy. This addition seemed to help theatrically ground the performance, creating an active and somewhat silly component to accompany the back and forth.
The ringmaster also brought conversational elements into the grander scheme of the play, adopting the persona of teachers or other students to shout out common phrases and platitudes.
Adding this interaction allowed for the athletes to segway into different points without it seeming incoherent or forcing them to pull ideas out of nowhere.
Because the performance was a reading, the show didn’t feature costuming, elaborate blocking or props. However, the narration and stage direction indicated a great deal of design not seen.
It is unclear how those elements might translate into a full performance, but the audience seemed entertained from hearing parts of the show’s greater design read aloud.
Even as a reading, “Priceless Gem” achieves its goal of highlighting the perspective of many student athletes and giving them a soapbox from which to be heard.
The show does not come off as seeking to capitalize or as trying to make itself relevant. Instead, it feels more like a genuine conversation about how UNC athletes are impacted by the scandals and how they are students as much as anyone else at the school.