entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark
What can a playwright possibly accomplish in only ten minutes time?
You'd be surprised!
Tonight's program of the New Plays Festival from PLAYWRIGHTS' PLATFORM gave me an opportunity to see seven plays in a row, each of them cast, rehearsed, and directed, with whatever props or costumes could be scrounged by each little "producing unit" for the show. They shared the same stage, with curtains, and the same lights operator, but beyond that it was every play for itself. And by the end of the evening I had developed two different criteria for these brief theatrical snap-shots: First, how much did the playwright try to accomplish with the time; and Second, how much was there for actors to work with. Depending on which yardstick I applied, I came up with different answers about which playlet "won" --- at least in my own mind.
And so this will be a very opinionated personal survey of what I thought about what I saw, not an objective review at all. I hope other people who attended the same program of plays, either on the 12th, the 13th, will feel free to call me a liar wherever they disagree. (Not enough people argue with critics' opinions these days!)
Now, I had seen three of these playlets before. Two of them were done at the Firedog, a few blocks down Harvard Avenue from where I live, as staged readings, and one of them was done again as a reading at a Playwrights' Platform meeting I attended.. Despite the fact that they were done here without scripts, my basic opinion of them didn't change much.
Now to the plays.
Two of them were little more than quick, cute jokes. Meredith Hale Baker's PLEASE DON'T ARGUE WITH MR. PEALE set two lifers in stir arguing about "The Power of Positive Thinking" --- with one of them manipulating reality by thinking positively. INTERVIEW #2 by Jim Moran saw a t-v interviewer asking "Dr. Vorkian Coyote" about his service and finding his ideas of when and for whom suicide should be assisted pushed to the furthest possible extreme. I felt Moran's satirical comedy sketch had more polish, but both were simple and ultimately light-weight exercises.
A step above was NO PIECE, NO JUSTICE, by Joseph Montagna, which took a trivial argument over a last piece of apple pie and built it into a class war between worker and manager. Quick details demonstrated who was villain here, and the three characters became a little more three-dimensional.
In INTEGRETIES by Kevin Connolly, a genuine disagreement about whether life should seek material rewards and power in the corporate game, or artistic self-fulfillment as an outsider, forces two people who needed one another to a break-point spelling disaster; the flaw in my mind though was that neither one could be called right in their choices, while their conflict never really developed any new perspective or original detail on a familiar conflict.
By far the most ambitious script was Stephen Fulchino's TO SLEEP, which attempted to push drama to a minimalist extrete. Scenes of only a few sentences erupted out of blackness and disappeared into blackout leaving enigmatic residue behind. What skeleton of plot connected these dots was never clear to me, nor what I should make of either their sequence or their interconnections.
For IN THE DARK, Geralyn Horton went in exactly the opposite direction, painting in a charismatic spiritual leader with thousands of devotees for two followers to argue about, then puncturing their dialog with a messenger giving different personal messages to each from the great leader.
I think I responded to the technique of spotting very specific details through the two women's dialog that implied that larger picture, and to the fact that the exact nature of the guru was at issue. While trying to figure out the truth about him, I learned things about the interlocutors, until the messages and their reactions to those messages. This was more my kind of play.
Now, was my judgement swayed in any way by sitting next to the playwright throughout the evening, or her giving me a ride home in which we could discuss her play, or could I have ben biased by the fact that one of the two ladies happened to be played by E Grace Noonan, The Theater Mirror's own "ActEr In Residence"??? Of course not!
For, as it happens, my favorite show of the seven was not G.L.Horton's, but Bill Doncaster's TITLE PENDING COMPLETION, a totally abstract exercise that took place "in the void" with an off-stage typist bringing forth an ego-obsessed "This Character" who cajoles and prods that unseen author to make for him a magnificent monolog essentially wringing the utmost trenchant meaning out of seemingly trivial beginnings, until a single brushed-aside tear crowns the stirring performance. The typist instead thrusts "That Character" onstage, and she demands lines immediately and plot later, on the grounds that unless there were something tangible on paper the typist would forget about them and they'd never get an opportunity to slip on an actor or two and walk around inside them making audiences notice. And at the end of the ten minutes, a balled-up page of wasted manuscript bowls both characters over, the end.
The debt to Pirandello notwithstanding, I think both this hysterically funny little romp and G.L.Horton's slice of reality rise to the top of my list for the same reason: In each case there was something there that a performer could get teeth into and then tear to tatters. Paolo Branco made the shamelessly egocentric "This Character" an over-the-top fountain of eager enthusiasm, and E Grace and Deborah Wrighton built whole lives for themselves out of interactions because each play in very different ways gave them something to build on, and a shape to build toward completing.
Now, were they flawless gems? No way! The short shrift given "That Character" left Ingrid Schorr with precious little to do but stand on stage and get overwhelmed by "This Character" (and that made me wonder how different a play this would have to be if the genders were reversed), while Horton merely implied an unwritten second-act instead of bringing her ten minutes to an obvious conclusion.
But what can you expect out of ten minutes? Or seventy minutes for that matter? A hell of a lot, obviousy. I had a ball, and I think I might even have learned something too.
Can ten minutes be better spent?