Source Festival, DC’s longest-running festival of new works, will be presenting 25 new works from artists around the country over the next few weeks. For those who like quick takes, Source has three 10-minute play nights arranged around the themes Redeeming Demons, Rights of Passage and Ethereal Encounters.
Redeeming Demons involves the impact of “malevolent forces both material and ethereal” upon humans and how these forces can ultimately have redeeming qualities. These plays explore ways that people can and cannot control their own futures.
Northern Indiana Wildlife Preserve
By Lee August Praley
Directed by Jennifer Harris
Poor Ranger Sandy (Sara Dabney Tisdale). It’s her first day in a new job and she has to give a live animal demonstration to an unruly group of visiting students. While the teacher (Brandon Mitchell) tries to keep order, Ranger Sandy also to worry about the animals, including a cougar that mauled to death the Ranger she’s replacing.
Northern Indiana Wildlife Preserve is a delight in every way with a terrific cast. Tisdale is wonderfully endearing as the new Ranger facing the horrors of public speaking and animal control. Mitchell is hilarious as the tormented teacher trying to keep control of his class (“Howard, put the knife away”.) Logan Sutherland effectively handles a variety of animal puppets, both physically and vocally.
Playwright Lee August Praley has a definite gift for comic writing. He uses the often threatening animals to knock Ranger Sandy off-base, and then uses the cougar to give her some needed life lessons. It is a strong piece that kicked the Source Festival off to a fine start.
By Sarah Kellogg and Cynthia Wilcox
Directed by Tyler Budde
It is one of the most dreaded conversations a family can have – two parents telling a child they are splitting up. Their eleven-year-old child Madeline (Erika Grob) does not take the news well.
Madeline grows before our very eyes as she takes her parents on a trip to the future. It’s not a pretty future for Joan (Stephanie Svec) and Ted (Ivan Zizek). Remarriage, substance abuse, and distance from their damaged child await the divorced couple.
Collateral Damage manages to handle the situation with a nicely balanced combination of seriousness and humor. While it doesn’t have anything new to say about the impact of divorce, the shots between the battling partners and their futures provide several comic moments before the play ends with a clever little twist.
National Smoke Signal Day is the story of two young students skipping school to smoke weed on a Long Island Beach. The play’s title is derived from one of the possible explanations that the youth imagine for the black smoke in the distance over New York City (none of which contemplate something bad happening.)
The play’s juxtaposition of the events of 9/11 and the dawn of young love feels forced. Similarly, the dialogue between Ellie (Sara Dabeny Tisdale) and Mark (Steve Isaac) is sometimes entertaining but at other points the attempt to be age-appropriate is too obvious. Even a nice ending cannnot save the piece.
By Joni McGary
Directed by Tyler Budde
Some parents have to balance their obligations to their children with the risks of a job that ensures a better world for all children. David Fenner (Patrick Furie) made a choice that he thought was best for the good of mankind, but that left a grieving, bitter widow (Sarah Gavitt) and son (Steve Isaac) behind.
The best part of the work involves the debate between the wife and the ghost of her husband about a choice he made to further the environmental movement. Sarah Gavitt is particularly good in her role. However, the environmental message and the whole play comes off as heavy handed.
By Drew Hampton
Directed by Randy Baker
Two individuals (Jennifer Ayn Knight and Andrew Ferlo) are on a playground with a seesaw in The Seesaw, a two-person relationship play.
At first the conversation seems more realistic as they see-saw and play a verbal game called “Worst Response Ever.” Soon, however, they start speaking metophorically about love and relationships. The work has a lovely poetic quality to it.
The actors portraying the two characters (described in the program only as One and The Other) have a nice rapport. They express the emotions while effectively conveying the subtext of their conversation. The Seesaw is a nice break from the more humorous or realistic works in this group.
By Tommy Trull
Directed by Tyler Budde
There’s something familiar about the dilapidated street projected on the back wall of the set. You’ll figure it out when Harrison (Logan Sutherland) is reluctant to obey the command of his mother (Stephanie Svec) to take out the trash because there’s a grouch in it. Yes, we are back on Sesame Street long after its glory days have passed.
Trash TV is a fun little work that satirizes not only the beloved PBS show, but also modern television viewing. The humor is aided by a large and energetic cast (other members are Patrick Furie, Sarah Gavitt, Erika Grob, Steve Isaac, Brandon Mitchell, Ivan Zizek) who conjure up alternative versions of favorite TV show characters like Bert & Ernie and the Count. Kristen Powell’s projections also contribute to the success of the show.
Trash TV is both intelligent and funny. It’s a fine way to wrap up the set.
* * * * *
With “Redeeming Demons” the Source Festival follows a pattern often used in the past of opening and closing strongly, while placing weaker plays in the middle. It is interesting that the program stresses how these plays offer a glimpse of the darker side of human nature, yet often the humor is what works best.
While these shorts are probably not the strongest of the festival, they feature an unusually talented set of actors, most of whom act in multiple plays. If you are willing to accept a mixture of hits and less successful plays, you are likely to be entertained even by the lesser material.
The 2012 Source Festival runs thru July 1, 2012 at Source, 1835 14th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Produced by The Source Festival
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with 1 intermission