The Source Festival’s third group (Group C) of 10-minute plays features an exciting array of fresh writing styles and acting chops – all seemingly centered around a theme of loss. Whether this was intentional or not, the productions channel this central feeling through both comedy and tragedy. Some work, and some don’t.
Laura Jacqmin’s personal short Jacqmin Family in the Petrified Forest opened the evening, detailing her family’s breezy adventures through northern California. The narrator (Judith Ingber) pointedly describes the petrified forests of Calistoga, CA – as if she was the world’s most cynical tour guide. The petrified trees, after all, aren’t much different than real trees – just old and brittle. Her father (Jim Epstein), mother (Ayesis Clay), and sister (Maya Jackson) explore wine country ad nauseum – literally. But the play circles back around to the trees when the revelation of her father’s bouts with Parkinson’s come to light. An ensemble cast surrounds the family, miming the swaying trees in their car windows, voyeuristic tourists, and even the petrified logs they sit upon. But it becomes quite apparent that Jacqmin’s intentions aren’t with the travels, but the travellers – as her father’s tragic disorder begins to cripple her own memories of better times. While the writer shines a warm light on the common misinterpretations of Parkinson’s, the short’s use of comedy doesn’t translate as well as its melodramatic moments.
The Shelf Life of Sushi pairs a neurotic Dodgers fan and a grieving maniac to give a dark perspective on death – at an inopportune time. Written by William Downs, Robert (Michael Rodriguez) is settling down with cold beer and a Saturday night Dodgers game – and they’re winning. There’s a ring at the doorbell – in walks the ironically-named Hope (Leah Raulerson). Hope used to live in this house, you see, and she’s carrying her dead terrier in a blanket, hoping to bury him in his old backyard, ok? Robert is terrified by the death-obsessed former tenant, and wants nothing of it. But Hope’s erratic personality begins to grate the homeowner, and her views on death send Robert into a small existential crisis. Director Gabrielle Randle adeptly utilizes Downs’ interplay between the two characters – giving Rodriguez’s nebbish performance a good counterbalance to Raulerson’s brazen persuasion methods.
Life after a tragedy is the focus of Genevieve Jessee’s He is Heavy, a fresh urban perspective compared to the first two shorts dealing with suburban mores. Argile (Arturo Tolentino) is spray-painting a tribute to his late friend, while Chris (Jonathan Randle) sneaks up on him with a surprise. Chris presents a gun, aimed point blank at Argile’s head – claiming it’s for their own future protection. Argile questions its purpose, telling Chris that it will only result in more trouble by its presentation. But Chris argues that their friend’s death was their fault, since they weren’t there to protect him. Jessee eventually turns the tables around on her characters, and leads to a harsh climax that may leave some hopeful audience members disappointed. Tolentino and Randle’s performances are sharp and human, Bryan Joseph Lee’s use of the space for an ultimate confrontation is excellent, and the drama feels too close for comfort.
Rich Espey’s tale of unrequited love, Rice Futures, is not only comically expressive, but marked by its clever premise. Enter Mr. Kusakabe (Steve Lee), mopping the floors of a McDonald’s, bemoaning the indulgent cuisine of America – he’s a top-notch sushi chef. Speaking in haiku, the burger-flipper waxes poetic about balls of steamed rice, slabs of ahi tuna, and wisps of ginger. Meanwhile, Miss LaCoeur (Sophia Bushong) longs for rice – but the kind best mixed in an andouille jambalaya. Pricking at a voodoo doll, she longs for the distant heart of Cajun chef Robert (Lee Leibeskind), whose spicy personality is too far to connect with. In that McDonald’s, two worlds collide as Kusakabe and LaCoeur bond over a common dish – french fries. Sure, rice would be nice, but fast food is so greasy, it’s good. Espey’s writing transcends what could’ve been a campy expedition into foodie love. Steve Lee relishes the role of the meek sushi chef, while Leibeskind steals the scene every time he arrives with his gumbo pot.
Prefaced on Source’s website as ‘Cupid walks into a bar…’, I was hoping James Rogers III’s Love Drunk had been more clever than what eventually pans out. That’s not to say the concept of a somewhat-nihilistic alcoholic Cupid doesn’t work, but it takes a step in a negative direction and doesn’t recover. Cupid (John Geoffrion), the world’s most famous cherub, confronts fellow drinker Angel (Laurel Green) at the bar and begins to dissect her love life. But Angel witnessed a family tragedy, and Cupid gives her the wake-up call – she’ll have to confront the loss before she can move on to greener pastures. Rogers’ source material would have worked much better without the ironic mythological implications, but then there would be little to catch the audience’s attention. And while Geoffrion and Green’s performances are nuanced and sharp-tongued, one wishes that director Daniel Pruksarnukul had invested more time in using props rather than having the actors mime binge drinking. It’s a distracting detail that affects the short’s presentation.
Capping off the night was B. Walker Sampson’s There are Shapes on the Ceiling That Look Like Bats. What’s impressive about Sampson’s short is that I could only spot one detail that needed work – the overlong title. Shapes on the Ceiling toys with the absurd without going overboard, and plays with the honeyed clichés of break-ups without selling out for hard realism. Boy (Tyler Stolenberg) can’t get over his recent break-up Girl (Katie Probst). Girl wants to move on. Boy eventually moves on, much to Girl’s chagrin. Boy begins seeing other girls. Girl has a hard time with this. Boy finds his “inner being” – but can’t help thinking he might still want Girl be a part of his life. It’s the Boy’s interactions with the “inner being” that contain Sampson’s most colorful flourishes, as puppeteer Daniel Mori presents a fat, flightless bird as the aforementioned silent force. This silly kiwi-like puppet gives the piece a hint of surrealist relief, and exhibits a more inventive method of dealing with inner struggle. Stolenberg and Probst bounce off each other like strong comic leads, and finish the evening shorts with a little light comedy.
Source Festival 2010
10-Minute Plays – Group C
reviewed by Phil Calabro
Source Festival runs thru July 3, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.