Ten minutes doesn't seem like a long time. It isn't, really. But in the theater, in 10 minutes, adventures can be had, lives can be turned upside down and right side up again. That's part of what makes Studio Players' second annual 10-minute Play Festival such a treat. The other part is the sense of play and relaxed conviviality that the actors and audience share throughout the evening.
The festival features seven 10-minute plays by playwrights from throughout the United States, plus New Zealand and Canada. The winning selections were winnowed from 150 submissions via several rounds of reading, as well as "unstaged" readings for the local theater community.
The winning scripts range from tearjerkers to zany to shocking to funny and sweet in an even-paced, relaxed evening of laughter and experimentation.
The festival opens with Barbara Lindsay's Canyon's Edge, directed by School for the Creative and Performing Arts theater teacher Alberta Labrillazo. An ostensibly retired couple (Paul Thomas and Susan Thomas) are taking in the view at the edge of the Grand Canyon when a young woman in tears (Courtney Waltermire) crashes their expansive moment. But in the span of a few minutes, we learn surprising and heart-stirring truths about the characters and about making the most of time with loved ones in a sweet examination of relationships.
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Following Canyon's Edge, Edward Palumbo's Harry, directed by Galen Velonis, is a strange and quirky about-face. Harry (Tannery Gray) is hanging out at a bar, trying to convince his buddy Colt (Spencer McGuire) that he saw dozens of people mysteriously vanish. He has a theory that they were all abducted by aliens from Venus. The audience is led to develop a theory that Harry is almost certainly crazy. But is he? A surprise appearance by a mysterious visitor (Burley Thomas) settles that debate. Or does it?
The festival follows the sci-fi-esque Harry with an unlikely romance between a bank robber (Aaron Holland) and an extremely pragmatic bank teller (Lindsey Carlstedt), who comedically uses her law school training to talk him out of robbing her and into a romance with her. Penned by James McLindon, Guaranteed playfully explores the negotiations we are continually making in life. Carlstedt and Holland have terrific comic timing in this playful romp directed by Tim X. Davis.
Next, we switch gears again for the evening's most unusual selection, Threatened Panda Fights Back by Rex McGregor. Delightfully weird and a little risqué, the show features two famous zoo pandas and two potentially usurping dodo birds. The only way for Threatened Panda to succeed is to let it be as weird as it wants to be, which is what director Marty Wayman went for. With Kody Kiser and Sherry Jackson Thompson playfully owning their roles as a panda couple, and Mike Van Zant and Shannon Baker creating two appropriately bizarre characterizations of dodo birds, the whole piece exudes the playful, silly fun that actors might have offstage or in rehearsal but that we don't get to see in full productions.
That is a big part of the evening's appeal: we get to see actors experimenting, messing around, and seeing what works and what doesn't.
After a brief intermission, the festival resumes with William H. Sikorski's The Wager, my personal favorite of the festival because of its psychological engagement and the gut-punching effectiveness of the piece's "twist" ending. Tonda Fields directs this scintillating park bench exchange between a young woman (Bethany Finley) and a stranger (Marc Roland) who dazzles and disturbs her with his ability to guess the details of her life.
Another chance encounter follows in John Kane's piece, Long Story, about a sharp-tongued, depressed woman named Rain (Suraya Shalash) who is about to jump off a bridge when a kindly Irish woman nicknamed Mum (Kathy Jones) stops her. Charming and disarming Rain with tales of her own life, Mum convinces Rain she has something to live for. Jim Betts' direction focuses on the playful banter between the two women while allowing the piece's more serious messages ("Something always happens," Mum says cheerfully) to filter through.
The festival ends on a comedic note in David Carley's He Won't Marry Me, directed by Jeremy Kisling. Christopher Rose plays a minister at his wits' end when a bride (Meredith Franki Crutcher) presses him to "move those benches" so she can have a center aisle to walk down, swaps organ music for Beyoncé, and tries to ensure no homeless people will be creeping around on her wedding day. Crutcher's parody of the bridezilla type is over-the-top fun, but she injects just enough charm and warmth in her character that she wins us — and the minister — over with her sincerity.
Each segment of the festival zips by, making it a terrific introduction to theater for folks who might not otherwise attend. And for those of us who are regular theater patrons, it is a treat to see the cross-pollination of so many sectors of the theater community playing together.