Artistic Director..........Georgina Spelvin
Artistic Director..............George Sauer
Tonight (Thursday 26 June) the second half of Playwrights' platform's 31th Annual Summer Festival of New Plays will offer seven more spanking new scripts written, workshopped, and produced by local playwrights. Just as with the first half (last week) each playwright has acted as producer, finding (or being their own) actors and director, and sweating out the three nights of performance, the audience vote each week for "best" and the playwrights' own vote for the best script --- no one, of course, voting for their own!
That first week's presentations was perfectly arranged for a lengthy discussion of the difference between a play of any length and a comedy-skit no matter how flawlessly crafted.
A "hijab" is not a "shmat'ta" nor is it a "babushka" --- though all three are head-scarves, draped or tied: each represents a cultural or ethnic history of women's roles in specific societies. And so when a Jewish mother (Wendy Golden) sees her daughter's head swathed in even an admittedly glittering, beautiful artifact from the Moslem world, she's ill equipped to handle it.
Monica Raymond has made this momma's play, with Golden making all the predictable and unique responses ("You've always hated me, haven't you?") while Jennifer Markholm withstands a withering barrage of outrage, pleas, placations, jokes, and finally grudging acceptance. Despite the subtextual truism that wars can only be soothed by a mutual understanding of combattants' lives, the playwright offers neither a sincere answer to "Why are you doing this to me?!?" nor any real defense of such draperies as useful in any way in modern life. Thus it is really only half a play, waiting impatiently for a re-write.
That said, I must say Golden's stream-of-consciousness (which, as the play stands, could be done as a monologue) follows the quicksilver flits of momma's mind with sincere dexterity that adds a lot to her character. Markholm I'm sure could do as much if she were given text enough to work with.
Little Wilco............David Mokriski
Big Wilco.................Mike Manship
"Wilco" is an old radio contraction of "will comply" but here a kid (David Mokriski) with a dead cell-phone keeps saying "This is Wilco" as he plays out a sci-fi fantasy of infiltrating an enemy planet. He is an over-intelligent runt, always chosen last for teams, always picked on and the butt of schoolroom jokes, and retreating into solitary games in which he can get back at parents and persecutors by "becoming big".
In other words, he is ME at age nine.
Director Colleen Rua and Playwright Bill Doncaster have hidden a second actor under a long tablecloth (Mike Manship) who can emerge when Wilco gets big and can either stomp persecutors to squishy death or run away from them.
This is a real play, in which the audience learns a lot about what drives this kid to solitary games by the hints he gives of what he would do Back if he ever does "get big" and has the opportunity. However, the play looked better to me the first time I saw it at The Theater Cooperative in Somerville. The two kid actors did not improve on that original production, and it may well be that film or television might be the only way around a casting problem: actors young enough to look the parts may simply be too young to act them to the fullest.
I told Playwright Jerry Bisantz that "This is your first real masterpiece" the night I saw it. I haven't changed my ind.
The play is essentially a monologue --- given a flawless performance by Rick Park --- framed as a conversation with a prison psychiatrist, though swections of the monologue are re-enacted as they are described. The central event here was a bored visit to a strip-club in unlikely Nowheresville (All right, in Utica New York, okay?), where the unspoken glad-eye from a drop-dead gorgeous pole-dancer (Kerry Bryars) was blown into a one-way love-affair that nothing, not even a rebuff from the lady's boy-friend (or "handler"?) or arrest for murder of said boy-friend can dampen. The gradual steps into obsession are carefully understated, the irrationality almost believable because of Park's sincerity and because Director Fran Weinberg has demanded similar sincerity to the other two nearly-mute actors, and moved the cast into and out of pools of light as the protagonist's mind is, step by slow step, revealed. Throughout, the quips and jokes do a lot to elaborate the protagonist's character and to humanize that portrait.
Okay, here's where we separate the plays from the skits.
This is a single-joke sketch in which two executives of a floundering start-up (Jerry Bisantz and Jim Jordan) try to blackmail each other into "downsizing" themselves. The every-man-for-himself that's-the-breaks coldness that underlines corporate friendships is the motor here, as first one and then the other "gets the goods on" a best-buddy. Turns out neither executive has enough smarts to carry off the assassination, but the nerd who does (Randy Farias) also remembers countless snubs and sleights when he gleefully turns their "evidence" against both his inadequate superiors.
Alyssa Brennan got beautiful performances out of all three cast members, making every careful mousetrap-situation completely believable each step along the way.
So why isn't tjhis a play?
Well, because these characters are laughed-at not -with, they are there to serve the snap-end, and there is no life to any of them except what serves the set-up of the joke. This carefully-crafted and brilliantly acted sketch proves that the art in sketch-comedy is very laudably real --- but it also proves that, at its best, a sketch ain't a play. (Check back thrugh the reviews of the previous two plays to figure out the difference.)
Stagehand Mark Orr
Stage Manager John Murtaugh
Cindy Fleming...Elizabeth Marshall
Gerald...........Glen Victor Doyle
Gary.............J. Mark Baumhardt
This again is a satirical sketch that depends on the audience's awareness of a dim-witted piece of "reality television" that verifies the "wasteland" accusation in spades. Writer Robert Mattson has opened and closed the sketch with the beautiful Elizabeth Marshall apparently playing an unbelievably empty bimbo named Cindy Fleming --- though she's too much of an actress to leave the vapidity built into such roles long ago by Vanna White unalloyed with her own wit.
Here Glen Victor Doyle exploits an English accent as the Designer who here eggs on two friendly couples to destroy rooms in each other's houses with re-designed "improvements". All that the descriptions of what's happened in these houses goes to prove is that on-stage descriptions of off-stage disasters are better than showing them --- welcome to radio drama 101! The gimmick of doing to the designer as he has done to countless other "guests" on this "stupid DIY Tricks" program is funny, but probably funnier if you've seen any reality-television. (I thought I had; turns out what I remembered was a previous production of this sketch at The Theater Collective in Somerville!)
So, my scorecard for the first three days' series had "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" as Best Play, and "dog-eat-dog.com" as Best Sketch.
There will be seven shows in the Festival tonight. What will Your score-card* look like about them?
WORD JUST IN: The Audience Poll for Best Play FIRST Series was won by Jerry Bisantz' "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" The Audience Poll for Best Play SECOND Series was won by Kelly DuMar's "Practicing Peace"