The Playwright Zone is reminiscent of the Source Festival: five short plays (all written by John Becker) lasting about an hour. [Although the plays are framed by the theme music from The Twilight Zone, there is no special significance to this title.] The first three short plays, all of which have been previously performed elsewhere, are clever and entertaining in various degrees. Unfortunately, the two new works are less successful, making the second half of the show a comedown.
The production opens with Summit Meeting, a clever parody of Arab/Israeli relations as carried out by two men trapped in an elevator named Hiram (Matt Dewberry) and Abdul (Drew Koppas). After rehashing familiar arguments about territoriality and related topics, the play ends with a nice mix of hope and danger that characterizes the real world. It is the best of the plays and a promising glimpse into John Becker’s talent.
Last Chance features the final member of the acting trio in this anthology, Veronica del Cerro as a lovely but slightly addled young woman named Isabel. She’s so addled that it seems natural that she’s in therapy and desperate enough to meet a man that she resorts to the personal ads. In fact, she’s even damaged enough that Bob (Dewberry) is reluctant to reveal that he’s the one she is waiting to meet. It is enjoyable watching them try to work past their initial reluctance and make the decision over whether to give dating a chance.
Signs involves two very different men who meet at a bus stop (nicely shown by a wall projection). Lance (Dewberry) wants nothing more than to suffer in silence until he can make it to his cubicle and a cup of badly needed coffee. Unfortunately Walter (Koppas) is one of those guys who must interact through bizarre conversation and even public dancing.
These plays use the formula of two identifiable but different people trying to form a connection. Even though the characters are exaggerated for comic effect, there’s still a touch of realism and truth that makes the comedy work. The last two plays take a different tact.
In Talking to Fish Veronica del Cerro returns as a proper yet resolutely suicidal middle school official. Her efforts are interrupted by Harlan (Dewberry), a concerned divorced father who is scouting the school his troubled son (he talks to fish) will soon start attending. While del Cerro is amusing, the understanding reached between the two seems artificial and forced.
The final work and the one publicized in the Fringe advertising is Shipwrecked. Somehow Pythagoras (Koppas), Nietzsche (Dewberry), and Emily Dickinson (del Cerro) wind up together with nothing but a “magic box” (a laptop computer). The characters wander around and discuss things like who has the most web hits (none of them are a Paris Hilton). It is the longest of the five plays and certainly feels that way.
Dewberry, Koppas, and del Cerro form a mini-company that any playwright should be eager to have. T.J. Keiter provides solid direction. Still, after such a promising start, the evening is a little disappointing. As the quality of the works slowly decline, the effect on the audience is similar to a balloon deflating.
The Playwright Zone
Written by John Becker
Directed by T.J. Keiter
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 75 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?