Good Things Come in Small Packages – The Short Play Lab

Roy Arias Studios
March 22, 2015
Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Ten minute play festivals have become very popular in the last few years: they are economically and physically easy to produce since they are usually presented with the simplest of set pieces, very light technical demands and promise a large audience since they guarantee a large number of family and friends showing up for individual actors and authors (as witnessed by the comings and goings within the audience during the afternoon). However, short plays are deceptively difficult to pull off: they must draw the audience in almost instantly, make a situation understandable and involving within a few lines, and find a way to resolve the conflict by the end of the brief play. The works included in the two programs run the gamut from completely coming up to the challenge to failing totally.

The festival, produced by John Chatterton, was presented in two programs of eight plays each. Transitions between plays were accomplished quickly and smoothly by a great deal of cooperation between the preceding and the following casts rearranging chairs, blocks and bits of scenery. At the end of each program, the audience was invited to vote on their favorite works (the winners are indicated below).

PROGRAM A

IMG_0156The Panopticon by Andres Anton-Diaz – A fraternity pledge master has trouble coming to grips with his sexuality. An unfortunate start to the program: over loud, aggressively performed, and a muddled presentation that made it highly unclear as to where it was taking place and whether the characters were intended to be real or figments of the central character’s imagination. And curiously dated in its attitude toward homosexuality.

IMG_0175Coming Home by John Ladd – Two failed young adults come home to live with their parents, who proceed to humiliate them. A weird, distasteful take on the American family which seemed to exist in some 50ish sitcom without the laughs.

IMG_0180Hyper White by Albert Andrew Garcia – One of the two most non-traditional pieces and the more successful of the pair. On a space ship, two men and a computer deal with questions of existence, time and destiny. Wonderful language and compelling, if not totally clear, drama.

IMG_0195Colored Girls Who Rock and Roll All Nite by Arthur W. French III – a polished riff on Ntozake Shange’s pivotal theater piece For Colored Girls … that unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere dramatically, but praise is due to the young women who handle the poetry and wit with ease.

IMG_0200Professionals by Dominic Viti – a group of young advertising professionals discuss an advertising campaign that they have no interest in while making random admissions about sex and drugs which adds up to absolutely nothing.

IMG_0214A Pig Dog Kitten-ish Breed by Rebecca Lee Lerman – A cute comedy about two sisters dealing with individual career crisis and ambition that had some clever humor about Asian stereotypes in show business. Nothing earth shattering here, but a bit of promise for the future of this writer.

IMG_0228Bruised by Fiona Gorry-Hines – a compelling piece about an uncomfortable reunion between two sisters divided by drug addiction and family conflicts. Two very honest performances by Allison Weyler and Stephanie Hepner raise a work that manages to avoid most of the cliches of the situation.

IMG_0235Menage a Twat by Gregory Cioffi – An unfortunately vulgar title for a compelling marriage drama about a youngish husband feeling trapped by a two loving wife. Bradley Martocello and Catherine Cela played this out with not a single false note in a work that was surprising but honest. The audience voted this the best work of Program A.

Program B

IMG_0068 Carte Blanche by Sophia Romma – Something about an actress who things she is some combination of Blanche Dubois and Norma Desmond, and gets involved with a Black pimp from Harlem (no cliche there) and some pretty boy refugees from the Kit Kat Klub. Trying to be an experimental piece, it was a failure on all levels and an insult to Tennessee Williams.

IMG_0084_595The Suit by Molly Kirschner – two short scenes that were linked by one character. Some nice writing here but very muddled as to what was going on and exactly what was the relationship of the two businessmen who were dressing each other in the first scene.

IMG_0094_595Shangri-La by Blake Walton – A college reunion for two barely closeted men who grab the chance to live out an opportunity they passed up on the first time. A nice situation but with almost no conflict that left this feeling more like an under-developed skit than a real play.

Code Red by Christopher Sirota – As opposed to the previous play, a scene with nothing but conflict as a widower challenges the computer programmer who somehow caused a car crash that caused the death of his wife. Unfortunately, the play turned totally on technology that was very unclear in the script.IMG_0099

IMG_0116Descent by Sander Gusinow – Voted best work of Program B by the audience, this highly inventive twist on class film noir and office politics was fresh and funny. And Sara Minisquero gave the best performance of the day as an unlikely femme fatale.

IMG_0125Mandy & Madeleine by Michael Newman – A confused young woman confuses her friend about their relationship. And confused the audience about the intentions and needs of the characters.

IMG_0134Dear Nate by Ali Keller – Another situation wish under-developed characters that didn’t go much of anywhere as an office hook up leads to a complicated break up, though who is breaking up with who is never all that clear.

IMG_0144A Peaceful Afternoon by Beth Falcone – More of a sketch than a play, an amusing take on a woman attempting to complete a guided meditation while constantly being interrupted by annoying phone calls. Not quite funny enough to coast on the illogic of why she just doesn’t turn the phone off.

Astrophysics: Out of this World

A Brief Introduction to Astrophysics
Review by Rannie McCants

unnamed42 When the eerie sound effects and blue stage lights faded, I found myself still sitting in the seat I’d picked 45-ish minutes before. This of course doesn’t seem unusual, but at the time, it did to me. I’m grateful that A Brief Introduction to Astrophysics by Jake Rose and Jamie Thomson was the final play I saw for the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival because it was certainly my favorite.

This play sent the audience through time and space looking for answers about life, death, and everything in between. Reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, the Skidmore playwrights Jake Rose and Jamie Thomson explored the vast nothingness that their two main characters seemed to feel, yet failed to accept.

The play is set in a park after dawn with two old men looking to the stars in the hopes of seeing a comet, or something, out there. Most of the play’s substance comes from the things that are said and less from the things that are done—making the piece feel more like a single moment paused and meditated upon. Walking away, I had this sudden feeling of grief, pain, and confusion that I just couldn’t explain. The kind of effect you’d get listening to a sad song, yet still having that emotional attachment that urges you to listen again.

In an interview with Patrick Hickey Jr, the playwrights stated that this play was written during a cross-country road trip that landed them a two week stay in a remote cabin in Montana. They decided to spend the time in silence so they could look inward to work through their experience in the wilderness. The two writers admitted their past writing history is that of poets and fiction writers, but theater lends itself in being a great medium for literature as well.

Their history with poetry becomes clear toward the end when the piece seems to cut off unresolved. Like poetry, this play is meant to be seen more than once and I certainly hope it will be given the chance to do so.

The Shoe Doesn’t Fit

Review by Sander Gusinow

I wonder how far writer Stephen Spurling has come since high school. Not far enough, it seems, if he still thinks his unfledged ‘Death of a Shoe Salesman’ has a life anywhere outside the halls of academia. Sophomoric in every sense of the word, his script exploits the plight of the mentally ill to deliver cartoonish nonsense and unwittingly cruelty.

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Three mentally disturbed individuals, Wanda, Roger, and Charles, await the arrival of a psychologist in Wanda’s apartment. For some reason it’s set in the 1980’s, although aside from the overblown costumes and the program note, one would have no way of knowing. A shoe salesman arrives and tricks the group into believing his wares are psychiatrically therapeutic. He then drops dead, and the group scrambles to cover it up before the real psychologist arrives.

Sarah Pencheff delivers the most endearing performance as Wanda, a mime-enthusiast nymphomaniac who just wants everything to run smoothly. What could have been an imbecilic ditz, Pencheff gives an earnest portrayal of someone who wants to get better (or at least, better enough to find a husband). Scott Lilly is adorably pitiable as the howling, panaphobic Charles; Lilly’s craft brings to mind a young Michael Showalter.

Unfortunately, the characters of ‘Shoe Salesman’ are decidedly idiotic, the humor of the play comes from just how mean or stupid they are. The caustic Roger is always the quickest to insult, and eventually admits he only attends these groups to crack wise at the crazies. He’s Spurling’s snappily-dressed authorial avatar; making fun of the insane, and hoping the audience goes down his spiteful rabbit hole.

Director Christopher Noffke is first and foremost a choreographer. It’s murky as to whether he’s unable or unwilling to ensoul his work with any sort of nuance, but chaos reigns supreme in ‘Shoe Salesman.’ Sight gags, messy tantrums, and maniacal screeching are served up without respite. He does have skill as an onstage craftsman, the gags that required precision were all razor’s edge, but his play buckles under an unrefined hand.

An immature and anarchic play, Pencheff and Lilly are the only elements buoying the show above complete unwatchability; and even then, it’s only occasional. I would call the show a vacuous exercise in cretinism, but it would sound too cerebral. No, ‘Death of a Shoe Salesman’ is simply an uncomfortable bellyflop.