A play works best when it opens a secret box, and thus illuminates the world and ourselves. A ten-minute play does all of that in ten minutes. When it works, it’s powerful theater.
It certainly works in Jacob Juntunen’s Saddam’s Lions, where you will guess the secret in the first thirty seconds but where the box which contains it will remain unopened, contents too horrible to contemplate, for the whole of the play. The terrific Zenzele Cooper plays Rashida, an Iraqi vet returned to Milwaukee. For ten minutes, while on leave from a party her mother has given in her honor, she skates along the abyss of personal disintegration, describing for her half-comprehending brother (Jamell Carter) Hell’s specific attributes. This includes the lions of the title, who were one of the imaginative ways the late dictator dispatched his political foes. Rashida’s platoon is tasked with feeding the lions; you will not like the way they did it. Saddam’s Lions will make you uncomfortable and give you hope, which will be two of the ways you know it’s working. Danielle Drakes directs.
It also works in Foreign Tongue, in which Sara Barker and Sun King Davis give a stunning representation of sensual love between two people who obviously love each other in a thousand different ways. In the play’s second beat, Karin Rosnizeck delivers the rest of the story. It will knock you off your seat. Martin Zimmerman’s script has the look and feel of the opening portion of a longer piece, but it’s not; the Source Festival is its world premiere. John Moletress directs, and the cast are all graduates of Factory 449’s incredible production of 4:48 Psychosis, last year’s Fringe Festival hit.
Finally, it certainly works for Girls Play, where Amy Kellett plays Martha, a ‘tweener who has a crush on her teacher and who rehearses a romantic scene between the two of them with Ruth (the brilliant Amy Quiggins), who has a crush on her. One of the astounding things about kids this age is that they can conceal nothing – they’re horrible actors, and it thus takes a really great actor to portray them. These actors are terrific; I instantly bought that they were twelve or thirteen, though in fact they are mature people. This is the subtlest, most sharply observed piece of theater in the whole evening. Kudos to playwright Masha Obolensky, director Kathryn Chase Bryer (assisted by Julia Krebs) and the actors for this fine meditation on human yearning.
Amenities, an absurdist piece which recalls Christopher Durang, is not my cup of tea but it got the biggest guffaws of the night I attended, including from my dear bride and editor. Martin (Kevin Hasser) and Claudia (Charity Pomery) are an unspeakable yuppie couple who have just bought a condo in the fashionable Bohemian, and they are showing it off to their friend Leah (Anastasia Wilson). Some warehouses-turned-condo feature granite countertops and exposed brick; in the Bohemian you also get your own artist. This one is named Morris (Felipe Cabezas) and he is ensconced under the kitchen table, in the good light. Gregory Hischak’s script is full of funny lines, and the overall effect is poignant, but (with the exception of Cabezas, whose character is imbued with a grave dignity) there is too much screeching and eye-rolling for my taste. Hasser makes it work but otherwise it seems conspicuous and overdone. As I see it, absurdity is best applied with a light touch; the more mundane and ordinary an absurd act seems, the more powerful the punch. Not everybody agrees with me, though. Jason Schlafstein, who is also directing one of the two plays that make up Suburban Motel at 1st Stage, directs here.
In Sharon Auerbach’s Then and Again, the secret in the box is a small dead dog (no secret, really; it’s clear in the first minute) but the rest of the play is a little murky. Alice (Marilyn Bennett), deep in dementia, believes the cardboard shoebox holds the remains of her first husband, who in fact died forty years previous, and that she is at a funeral for him, where the Mayor is a special guest. Her husband (James Svetko) and adult children (Jennifer Restak and Matt Dewberry), with varying degrees of enthusiasm, do their best to accommodate her delusions. While it is hard to discern what the point of all this is, director Bill Largess keeps things moving at a satisfying pace, and Restak and Dewberry are absolutely terrific.
Lauren Yee’s J.A.P. is the story of Rachel, a Chinese orphan (Hope Kean) adopted at the age of one by an American couple (Joan Croaker and Ned Read). Rachel is now about to have her Bat Mitzvah, and she is not happy about it. She rejects her adoptive Jewish heritage and seeks to recover her Chinese identity, furiously writing letters to her biological parents, who appear to be unknown. I must tell you that I didn’t buy any of this; Rachel sounds more like a graduate student in Sociology than a 13-year-old girl, and some of the actors seem tragically underrehearsed. In the end, most folks who’ve been parents are familiar with the stage where their children wish they were somebody other than who they are; come to think of it, most folks who’ve been children are also familiar with this stage. This play, which nonetheless has a few funny lines, adds nothing new. Tiffany Ford directs.
The evening is interspersed with a photo montage of the actors, writers, directors and producers of the Source Festival, along with interesting tidbits about them. Some of them are so interesting, in fact, that they constitute their own 10-second plays, and so add to the overall delight.
Theater isn’t for everyone, and particular plays appeal to particular tastes. The ten-minute plays appeal to people who love story, and want to see it delivered with urgency. The only special effects are emotions, and they are spread out upon the table in jig time, without dawdling. If that sounds like your thing, come on down.
The Source Festival 10-minute Plays, Group B
Plays by Sharon Auerbach, Lauren Yee, Martin Zimmerman, Masha Obolensky, Jacob Juntunen, and Gregory Hischak
Directed by Bill Largess, Tiffany Ford, John Moletress, Kathryn Chase Bryer (with Julia Krebs), Danielle Drakes and Jacob Schlafstein
Produced by the Source Festival
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Group B plays close June 19th. The Source Festival continues thru July 3, 2010.
Details and the complete schedule and reviews are here.