The Source Festival’s tenth birthday party is a subdued one, and this year’s lineup is but a shadow of Sources gone by. While we usually see three debuting full length plays, there is only one this year, a returnee — an oldie but, as Brett Abelman’s review shows, a goodie. Where the Source usually has three sets of six original ten-minute plays, this year it only has one — this one. (There is a second set of ten-minute plays, reproducing the best ten-minute plays of previous years.)
Does this diminution of original work — along with the shrinkage of the Capital Fringe Festival, to 87 from its customary 120 or so productions — reflect a dimming of the creative spark, here and across the nation? I have no way of knowing, but in viewing Covert Catalyst I see the same jungle-gym shaped curve I am used to seeing in these Source tiny-play aggregations: two excellent works, two that are good enough for what they are doing, and two which need reworking, or rethinking, or something.
Let’s start with excellence, which you will find at the end of each Act. In Ed Cardona Jr.’s Rip 60, Z Split, Hot Read, Ear Hole on 3–Break! — the title is the worst thing about it — Coach D (Kevin Boudreau) chews out the underclassmen on his football team while center Beanie (Nick Duckworth) and quarterback JB (Bryan Norrington) work out their exchange against various defenses, as well as some more intimate issues. At times it seems like two parallel plays are taking place, which is tough to do in a 10-minute exercise. Coach D is the Nijinsky of profanity, tearing into his charges fiercely and imaginatively, only to build them up at the last minute. Beanie and JB, seniors who have seen this movie before, comment on Coach D’s technique with an insouciance and knowingness which may call Mystery Science Theater 3000 to mind. But the issues between them are harder to address, and require their own semaphores. Cardona shows considerable knowledge of football, coaching, and the human spirit in this short piece. Jacob Young directs.
I also liked John Bavoso’s Threat Level Cream, which closes out the first Act. Rusty (Jonathan M. Rizzardi) and Kara (Chloe Mikala) are strangers on a train — specifically, the Washington Metro — who engage over a bottle of milk which someone has left on the seat next to Rusty. Is it dangerous? Should they call the Transit Police? The sign says “if you see something, say something”, but if they reported everything that might be a threat, they’d have no time to read the paper. Eventually the conversation drifts to more mundane matters — their jobs, how hard it is to get rest, and so on. Indeed, they go on a bit too long (can a ten-minute play be too long?) until the action suddenly lurches more violently than a Metro train. The terrific climax is accentuated by Rizzardi’s first-rate work as Rusty and by director Connor Hogan and the production team, who bring the Metro experience to life.
The best way to understand Jared Strange’s The Emperor’s Big, Fat Naked Revolution is as farce, and on that level it works just fine. Emperor Trodd (Rizzardi) has somehow come to the conclusion that the way to bring the Empire’s fulminating rebellion to an end is to appear before the rioters in the altogether. This enrages his wife, Empress Drusilla (Hilary Morrow), who is the brains behind the operation. She wants to pursue her agenda, which appears to be the execution of concubines and the deportation of an unknown number of people. Suddenly, Trodd, in the buff, strides into the room, and it becomes the task of Drusilla and her minion, Marwood (Mikala) to shield the royal ding-dong. This they do with great panache and derring-do, aided occasionally by Trodd himself. Their concealment techniques approach the acrobatic, and kudos to director Hogan for putting together such a niftily choreographed piece. But the premise is ridiculous, and not in a good way. Not even Putin uses this technique to stifle dissent, and when Marwood suggests that exhibitionism is a good way to distract dissenters from Drusilla’s horrible plans, it resonates in a way that’s not funny. Incidentally — and this sounds strange in a play about a naked Emperor — the costumes (Jeffery Peavy) are terrific: original and beautiful.
There is a faint whiff of the academy to Chelsea Marcantel’s This is the Big One, in which six people (Duckworth, Boudreau, Norrington, Hilary Kelly, Genevieve James, and Linda Bard) are on a roller coaster. We see the usual suspects — the timid man whose psychiatrist has suggested the ride as a way to overcome fear; the woman whose faith is in Jesus; the man who is about to propose to his best girl, who wishes she was with somebody else; and so on. They are flung about in unison as the coaster goes through its twists and turns; in less exciting moments, they break the fourth wall to share their stories with us. At the final moment, Elsie (Bard) delivers a soliloquy on the need to push on through fear and defeat as the others are frozen in poses of horror and delight.
That’s all fine, but where was Dr. Phil? Young directs. (I am authorized to say that my companion, dear bride and editor — they are all the same person — liked this playlet a great deal more than I did.)
I am sorry to say that I was not in love with the remaining two pieces. In Marc Saunders’ Some People Say, Carol Spring plays a lunatic conspiracy theorist who is preparing her daughter (Zoe Walpole) for the coming economic catastrophe, brought to us by the Elders of Zion, in collaboration with the Bavarian Illuminati. She has sent her son Zachary (Dylan Hares) to get gold, which will soon be, she assures her daughter, the only hedge against the apocalypse. Spring is not a convincing lunatic conspiracy theorist (and this is the only context in which such a statement would not be a complement) and Hares seemed to be fighting his lines throughout. But the deeper problem is that I have no idea where this is going. The fragment we see is without surprise or insight. Steven Dietz once wrote a play called Yankee Tavern in which the conspiracy theorist began as an object of gentle derision but turned out to be the play’s moral center. I don’t think this is what’s going on in Some People Say, but then again, your guess is as good as mine. Rebecca Wahls directs.
Lori Fischer’s Gotta Gethere Whatever Itakes Versus Mr. Chaos presents the same problem, but on a larger scale. Gotta Gethere (Walpole) is doing jumping exercises while waiting for the bus to Jumpingupandown Happytown when Whatever Itakes (Spring) comes upon her.
closes July 1, 2017
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Soon, Ms. Itakes is jumping around too, as the two of them exchange breathless observations about happiness and their disappointment in recent events. They realize that their malaise, caused in large part by the unanticipated triumph of Mr. Chaos and his subsequent depredations, can only be remedied by a move to Jumpingupandown Happytown, and that they will be deemed worthy of the bus ride to it only if they continue to jump up and down.
I get that Mr. Chaos is our benighted incumbent, but what are the characters? Naive Hillary boosters? Hyper-energetic millennials? Pilates dropouts? Beats me. This piece needs less rethinking than repurposing, so that the punch line — and there is one — has more meaning. And less jumping, please. It’s exhausting.
Source: Covert Catalyst, being, in order, This is the Big One, by Chelsea Marcantel, directed by Jacob Young; featuring Nick Duckworth, Hilary Kelly, Genevieve James, Linda Bard, Bryan Norrington and Kevin Boudreau; Some People Say, by Mark Saunders, directed by Rebecca Wahls, featuring Zoe Walpole, featuring Zoe Walpole, Carol Spring and Dylan Hares; Threat Level: Cream, by John Bavoso, directed by Connor Hogan, featuring Jonathan M. Rizzardi and Chloe Mikala; The Emperor’s Big, Fat, Naked Revolution, by Jared Strange, directed by Hogan, featuring Hilary Morrow, Mikala, and Rizzardi; Gotta Gethere Whatever Itakes Versus Mr. Chaos, by Lori Fischer, directed by Wahls, featuring Walpole and Spring; Rip 60, Z Split, Hot Read, Ear Hole on 3–Break! by Ed Cardona, Jr., directed by Young, featuring Duckworth, Norrington and Boudreau. Lighting design: E-hui Woo . Costume design: Jeffery Peavy . Sound design: Bob Pike . Dramaturg: Sara Cohen . Props design and run crew: Kyla Duff . Stage manager: Tori Ujczo, assisted by Carissa Gilson . Produced by the Source Festival . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
Note: Playwright John Bavoso is a colleague of mine at DCTS, where he reviews productions. This has not affected my review of his work.