PROGRAM A reviewed by Sander Gusinow
The experiments continue! John Chatterton’s Midtown International Theatre Festival Short Play Lab brings another host of vivid shorts crackling to life. This suite of shorts left me with a happy predicament, some plays were so good they deserve entire reviews of their own. Alas, alack, I have but one article to give, and wordcount is a cruel and unforgiving master.
Joyce Fontana’s Trail Meetups was arguably the best of the night. Erika Vetter gives a tense, gripping portrayal of a woman alone in the woods where she encounters a (seemingly) nice man on the trail. As the cleverly-written piece unfolds, the young woman gets more and more desperate as the stranger challenges her white lies about having a big dog, and a boyfriend, right around the corner. Vetter captures the not-unfounded phobia of strangers in the modern day, but Fontana ends the piece with a painfully appropriate twist. The ending transforms the play from heartbeat-skipping stranger-danger into a meditation on our inability to ever really know someone we just met.
Paths: No Rhymes, No Reasons was a close second. in this sanguine one-man show, Aaron Phillip Watkins portrays a Baltimore native who overcomes an impoverished background to attend a prestigious Business school. Despite his moral fiber and burning desire to make something of himself, he ends up in jail anyway by way of corporate greed. A poignant, well crafted work, Watkins is deeply in element playing various other characters (most notably his side-splittingly hilarious weed-loving best friend) as well as rapping in intelligent, affecting verse. In the end, we all wish his character would have pursued his artistic career rather than fallen prey to the trappings of corporate America. Such a play is right at home at short play lab, with multitudes of actors, writers, and directors in a similar predicament.
The Man and the Words, written and directed by Mehdi Mashhour, puts the ‘International’ in Midtown International Theatre Festival. Straight off the plane from Iran, the avant garde movement-piece concerns a man who meets…. and falls in love with… His hand. A delightful confluence of voice and body, Alexsander Kwanje delivers as the man, whose masterful animated-hand physicality sells the beautifully bizarre work. Is it a cautionary tale of self-involvement? Probably. But even if I totally missed the mark, it’s a roarin’ good time.
One last mention (because it’s my review and I can do what I want!) Abuse from Another Life by Fran Handman is just plain good writing. The premise is simple, a woman confronts an oblivious man about his alleged offenses against her in a past life. Wittily written, astutely directed by Elowyn Castle, and playfully acted by Dana Feinberg and Baltsar Beckeld, the piece is nothing if not a charmer (even if the ending is a bit of a letdown).
Sadly, there are plenty of solid plays I’m failing to mention. For that, I’m sorry. This was an exceedingly good round. Fight on, ye ten minute warriors. I look forward to seeing what you concoct next month!
PROGRAM B reviewed by Bob Greene
The ten-minute play has become a staple amongst theater companies and festival producers. And that’s not so bad. As actual works, one might argue, but as opportunities to test out one’s skill in dialogue creation, plot and character development, even wit and pathos… it’s like looking both ways before crossing the playwriting street.
Case in point is John Chatterton’s institution, the Short Play Lab. The title alone suggested that these are experiential. Not all trial runs are noteworthy but it can be reported with much happiness that there were some interesting examples in the latest monthly submission located at Roy Arias’ Studios in Times Square.
Some like, A Long Day’s Journey Into A Hotel Room by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, displayed promise with a unique style and fast-pacing but petered out quickly. Others like Burnout by Maia A. Maiamatsushita might have seemed like a commercial for a nonprofit organization, but it showed what can be done with good acting. Exit Interview by Tom Delgado was a great idea that just needed more work.
The standouts of the night were Jesus and Mary by George Klas, directed by Rhonda Goldstein; starring Morgane Jaremczuk and Caleb Hicks. The excellent writing, well-timed direction and acting took shtick-filled expected humor and made it a truly engaging comedic piece. The artists involved here were committed enough to make us forgive the blasphemy. Pull the Trigger, Stupid by Christopher Sirota only needed work on the title (the flip moniker did not match the dark surreal drama it encased). Jay Michaels and Adele Wendt provided powerful direction for this parable about euthanasia harkening to what man was and will be again. Emmy Pai & Joseph Conway’s chemistry and energy put us on the edge of our seats and Sirota’s dialogue kept us fascinated though a bit more exposition would have been a welcome spice to the broth. But the winner is Atonement on the 8th Hole by Lorne Svarc, directed by Tasha Gordon-Solmon; starring Dangerfield Moore and Shelly Antony. Many 10-minute plays are single jokes or ideas. But it takes expert writing and acting to make it a play. This – like Jesus and Mary – took a joke and made it a pleasing experience. The use of a muse for the golf-playing rabbi gave the play an added bit of class, and the brilliant ending was certainly worth the wait.
Students of theater history know that even the likes of Tennessee Williams wrote one-acts and short plays. He wrote one that is acknowledged as his experiment before creating A Streetcar Named Desire. If John Chatterton and his contemporaries were around way-back-when, imagine how many more Williams’ we might have had.
See you next month.