Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The 30th Annual Playwrights' Platform Summer Festival of New Plays"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


The 30th Annual
PLAYWRIGHTS' PLATFORM
Summer Festival of New Plays

Artistic Director Georgina Spelvin
Producing Director George Sauer
Festival Tech Director John MacKenzie
Festival Stage Managers Beth Gustin, Carolyn Fuches
Design by Robert Bonotto
Festival Consultant Sarah Newcomb
Board Members Jerry Bisantz, Stephen Fulchino, Geralyn Horton

One of the good things about the Playwrights' Platform Festival is that it gets playwrights away from their keypads and involved in the process. Each playwright must function as producer --- finding director and actors, seeing to it that furniture or sets get onstage on the right nights, and in the inevitable crunches, substituting themselves for unfound members of the production team. There are several playwrights this year acting as their own directors; others act in their own or someone else's scripts; Ry Herman shows up as stage-manager for several plays as well as director for his own; and Jerry Bisantz, who handled press relations for the festival, directed his own play, acted in another's, and when a show had to be scratched he added one of his older plays (out of competition) to the program. And when an actor pulled out three days before opening, Patrick Brennan had to step in and play his own lines in the new play he wrote and directed. Grappling with production problems will make all these writers better playwrights.

This is the first time the glory of being recognized will be accompanied with a cash prize. But the problem is how to define "best". Some plays are better acted than others, some better directed, and thus may please crowds more than better written scripts. Most of these are short plays, so there is a difference between those that fill ten minutes completely versus those that reach for something bigger. The ultimate test for any play comes when actors slip into its characters and try to walk around in them, so often what comes to the stage is a quick approximation of what a full production might create.
Here are my quick appraisals of the contesting scripts, seen on their first festival performances:

"Gurney's Nightmare"

By Jerry Bisantz
Directed by Jerry Bisantz

She.........Jennifer L. Honen
He..................Jerry Bisantz

This "Lucky Strike Extra" is a self-contained parody of "Love Letters" with the lady doing "Romance Letters" and the man fixated on "Sex Letters". Bisantz threw it in to swell the scene.....

"Little by Little"

By Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro
Directed by Paula Ramsdell

Man.................Jerry Bisantz

In this droll monologue a new father describes his gradual take-over of household chores he finds he does better than his lactation-fixated wife. A quick, logical progression to the ultimate act of house-husbandry. A nice, fluffy joke.

"The Ten Minute Workout"

By Jerry Bisantz
Directed by Jerry Bisantz

Jim.................Brad Schiff
Carly...Elizabeth Marshall
John...........Patrick Pettys
Dave...........Paolo Branco
Maura.......Jessica Scalese
Sheila...........Lisa Burdick

This is a more ambitious piece, with all the free-association fantasies that run through an exercizer's mind walking through his mind and talking to one another. None of them think nearly as much of the man as he does himself.

"I'm Sorry"

By John O'Brien
Directed by Jason Taylor

Director.................Jason Taylor
Stage Manager.........Ry Herman
Actress.........Michelle Markarian
Actor..................Joe Garland

The off-stage director here is involved with the cast and crew from hell --- actors who remember their one-line cues but not their one-line lines and everyone so sorry interrupting the rehearsal. The play they're rehearsing, however, seems to have less substance than this parody of theatrical realities.

"Shooting Sparks"

By Ginger Lazarus
Directed by Dani Snyder

Young Chief...............Patrick Zeller
Old Dame.......................June Lewin

What can a young and selfless fireman do with a self-identified Old Dame whose knee's been caught in the fire-escape, and sheets of flame blocking any way through the burning high-rise? Maybe they can climb down a rope to the out-of-reach ladder --- but real super-men do not give up even with witty ladies making smart repartee.

"The Prisoners of Hazelteen Avenue"

By Robert Mattson
Directed by Robert Mattson
Set Construction Art Zweil

Gordon...................Tom Berry
Rhoda.............Jennifer Shotkin
Daisy.........Ceit McCaleb-Zweil
Warden 1....Margaret McGarty
Warden 2...J. Mark Baumhardt

This play looks initially like a parody of Sartre's "No Exit" --- a third prisoner thrown into a comfortable prison where neither of the others know why they're held captive, why they're given interrogations and back-rubs, or why they seem to have a peculiar series of personality quirks. When an escape-attempt fails, and the Wardens finally enter, the truth dawns. This is a carefully crafted one-punch joke that keeps its secret well, and is excellently acted.

"The Mutton Bandit Molloy"

By Ronan Noone
Directed by Marie Jackson

Shep.................Ciaran Crawford
Petey.......................Nate Gundy
Molloy..............Stephen Cooper

This West-Irish slice of village silliness has a pair of sheep-wranglers discussing the difficulties of their boss, the owner of the flock ... he's apparently been arrested for strangling sheep, reacting in this strange way to his childlessness. There's a pun-duel and a setting of hierarchies going on between the two shepherds, and a lot of good Irish misunderstanding in the air, before everything's sorted out proper.

"Foul Play"

By Ry Herman
Directed by Ry Herman

Sam Halfbrick.....................Samuel Young
Wanda................................Jennifer Morris
Persephone Carruthers....Shannon Hartzler
Marcus Nebbish............Randall Milholland
Guido "Da Mangler" Calamari...Rob Astyk
W. C. Carruthers....................Jason Taylor
Organist........................Michele Markarian

This is a straight send-up of the simile-ridden thriller-style of Raymond Chandler. It's a carefully crafted sketch, the kind of cartoon parody that MAD Magazine pioneered. Herman breaks the frame with aplomb, and this cast really enjoys the attitudinizing and bombast of this fresh plowing of familiar ground.

"Damn Nation"

By Patrick R. Brennan
Directed by Patrick R. Brennan

Man.................Patrick R. Brennan
Woman....................Dawn Tucker

This is the only play this year featuring social commentary. The woman has been stopped at customs by her ex. She's suspected of smuggling birth-control medicine into a religion-run America. He's an Ashcroft like-a-look torn between lingering love and commitment to the One True Way his Bible demands.

"That Inward Eye"

By Joseph Montagna
Directed by Ry Herman

Brooke.................Shannon Hartzler
Gordy...................Joseph Montagna

This odd comedy is excellently acted, so that its peculiar quirks take on a plausibility even while raising surprised eyebrows. The selfish guy living off his girl-friend is reluctant to let her break off their two-year affair --- especially when she expects him to fold himself into a trunk along with other old mementoes going into storage. Montagna's writing --- and his acting --- makes this odd pair strangely believable.

"Two Strange Things"

By Rebecca Saunders
Directed by Leslie Dell'Elce-Grinley

Becky.................Rebecca Saunders

For this carefully constructed monologue Rebecca Saunders plays several older members of her family in various stages of martial spat plus an imaginary playmate --- all described through the eyes of a little girl who doesn't always understand what's going on between her elders. Saunders turns her little memoir-play into a personal vehicle, implying plots and subtexts which her child's eyes cannot see. Both writing and performance are excellent here.

"Full"

By Bill Doncaster
Directed by Maria Silvaggi

Angie................Joanna Nix
Dad...................Bill Powers

This is a slice of reality, with a frustrated divorced dad grumpily waiting for a train in Pennsylvania Station with his precocious daughter. The game she plays to pass the time consists of picking interesting faces from the crowd and making up lives for them to lead. She's better at it than her dad, though they get to know each other better, surprising one another with their insights. The performances make excellent use of silences as well as words in this brief snapshot of reality.

"Crèche"

By Monica Raymond
Directed by Monica Raymond

Tracy.........Jennifer Markholm
Chai...................Kay Moriarty

This two-actor play will not be presented in the second and last week of the Festival, so I can go into greater detail describing it. My feeling about it was that the pair merely scratched the surface of what could be a deeply moving script. In a sense, the playwright directed it as you'd expect a playwright would --- with two stiffly upright characters standing and getting the words right without getting far into the backgrounds of either one.

The scene is a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. One character is a young high-school kid escaping her life in "the projects" by travelling some distance to this land of dreams to participate quite vicariously with the up-scale patrons. She comes upon a slightly older girl stealing The Baby Jesus from the mall's Crèche --- and replacing it with a live new-born. She admits she had it in the CVS ladies' room, wants to leave it for some rich shopper to find --- and certainly doesn't want it raised in any projects! She insists she's "not the baby type," that she's an Attention Deficit Syndrome sufferer who is too busy trying for better grades to get her into a college like brown so she can live any one of several possible lives unencumbered by babies.

The other girl maybe young and poor, but with an inventive personality. Hearing that the kid was named Rudolph because of his red nose, she confides that she thinks the names of fonts on desktop-computers would be fine for people --- "Garamond" for instance for a boy, maybe "Pica" for a girl...

It's obvious that both girls like the kid, really wish him well, but both are also aware that neither has the resources needed to become a "baby type." As his birth-mother slips away, the other kid tenderly sings his christening-song to little Rudolph, puts the fatherless baby-Jesus into the wooden arms of Mary and, hesitantly and reluctantly leaves him, beginning to cry, alone in the carol-playing mall.

If you don't know by now which of these plays gets my vote for Best, you'll have to see both programs this week-end and vote yourself.

Love,


The 30th Annual Playwrights' Platform Summer festival of New Plays
Program ONE (6, 8 & 14 June
"The Ten Minute Workout"
"Shooting Sparks"
"I'm Sorry"
"Full"
"Creche" (performed 7 June but not 14 June)
"Foul Play"
"The Prisoners of Hazelteen Ave."
"That Inward Eye"
Program TWO (7, 13 & 15 June)
"Little By Little"
"The Mutton Bandit Molloy"
"Damn Nation"
"Gurney's Nightmare"
"Two Strange Things"


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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