John Chatterton’s Short Play Lab
Review by Sander Gusinow
In chemistry, a failed experiment could mean you’ll be needing skin grafts; in theatre, the worst that could happen would be a waste of ten minutes. Midtown International Theatre Festival’s 2014 Short Play Lab harnesses this convenient truth to bring twenty ten-minute plays surging to life with all the charming passion one expects from bright-eyed off-off-Broadway hopefuls.
As one would expect, the quality varies immensely over the course of two lengthy programs. As one would also expect, most pieces liberally interpret the definition of ‘Ten Minutes.’ Thankfully,the plays with promise sparkled, while the stinkers were pleasantly forgettable. (aside from one play in which two men shrieked at the top of their lungs from start to finish like monsters from Greek Mythology)
Astronaut, written by Mike Meadors, was far-and-away the leader of the pack.
In a stunning performance by Brad Frost, an abused child plays make-believe with his teddy bear in the attic. Touching and forceful, the play illustrates the inescapable allure of fantasy as a way of confronting the bitternesses of life. The piece was all the more moving as the boy becomes disillusioned with the ‘character’ of his teddy bear. As lovers of theatre, what do we do when we walk out the door and realize it’s all make-believe? Astronaut strikes harder in ten minutes than most plays do over the course of two hours.
There were other standouts of course. The gigglesome, intriguingly ominous Sausages by Griffin Hennelly was a dark and playful affair.
A Beckettian Brit in soiled clothes chillingly delivers his misgivings about the ‘five second rule,’ all the while sounding like Stewie Griffon at the height of a Klonopin trip.
It’s You, by Arno Austin, depicts a raunchy old man and woman meeting in the park. Over a bawdy conversation, the two realize they were each other’s *achem* paramours in nights long past. It featured my favorite exchange of the evening: She says, gloomily, “Have I really changed so much in fifty years?” “Yes” he replies. “You’re more beautiful than ever.” I defy you not to wipe your tear duct.
Liza Pross’ Heavenly Things also deserves a mention. The show pleases the senses as a choral ode to nature, spirituality, and city living. The direction by Jordan Dann brought the fresh fragments to the stage in valiant fashion.
It’s a thrill to be able to spot new talent as it emerges. In the end, that’s what the off-off Broadway is all about. The lab and the experiments are concluded for now, but the kernels of budding technique have no doubt been microwaved. Fight on, ye ten minutes warriors. Once again into the breach.