Last weekend this reviewer enjoyed the opportunity to see the future of community theatre as presented as part of The Emerging Artist(s) Project by Milburn Stone Theatre in North East, Maryland. The “future” was presented as eight original works each ten minutes in length.
Those of us who hold theatre as a life passion readily acknowledge that original works define the direction(s) where theater is moving. This evening of Ten Minute Original Plays was creative, absorbing, humorous and confusing. But that is always to be expected when viewing original works. The Milburn Stone stage, which is usually festooned with set pieces and props to support the latest production, was now dark and empty with curtains partially drawn and two chairs … sitting there … waiting … as was the audience. The program gave us the preliminary details of our evening of theatrical adventure by identifying the playwrights with some biographical detail. It was apparent that the Producer of this evening, Marshall B Garrett, went far afield looking for submissions. The playwrights are from as close as Maryland and as far away as Singapore (God bless the Internet!!) Their playwriting experiences varied also from beginner to established author. All of this became more obvious once the productions hit the stage. As a side production note, it was lovely to have these productions be located at various sites around the stage. Center stage can become so boring … using it should be a choice and not a given!
Since this reviewer is not qualified to comment on play structure and writing in general, I will instead relate how the pieces impacted me. The various directors and actors will need to discuss amongst themselves whether or not what they portrayed on stage conveyed the author’s intent… and, of course, maybe I just didn’t get it!
Relationships dominated the evening. Beginning with “Lucky Charms: A 10 Minute Ritual in 13 Movements” was a daunting task. It took until movement 7 for me to coalesce what was being shown as a lifetime in pieces. Assumption was that movements meant a life moving forward while “regression” was used to show flashbacks of earlier interactions. While the props and their continual re-arrangement reinforced the life streaming, the costuming became cumbersome at some points and dragged the pace. While gender switching is still in its pro/con infancy in the theatre, the question for this piece was: “Did the author intend for a woman to play this man?” If that was the intent and while costuming made it apparent, there were enough other male aspects included in the production to trust the audience to make that connection. Both Rachel Cox and Madi Ferguson were energetic and passionate on stage. The text was complex, and meanings abounded in their physicalities as directed by Marshall B. Garrett. I was left wondering if this piece trusted the audience a bit more some of the confusion onstage might have been lessened.
The balance of Act I was filled with “The Proposal”, “Finger Food” and “Toward the End”. “The Proposal” takes us to a marriage proposal where the man presents the ring and his question but then is forced on a trip of unanswerable questions and crazed possibilities discussed at breakneck speed before the woman he loves circles back around to “love conquers all” and accepts the proposal. Whew! The set was overly complex and food handling led to delays instead of dramatic pauses. Dan’s (Joe Baxter) initial discomfort with his character led easily into his reactions as Sheila (Tess Pohlhaus) took a charming and relentlessly circular ride back to the proposal. Perhaps more affection “chemistry” might have helped us root for Dan more and wish that Sheila would just “get over it”.
“Finger Food” was about a relationship, but this time between a fork and a spoon. Creative writing was this piece. Mr Fork (Erick Lack) and Miss Spoon (Madi Ferguson redux) had little to add by moving. It was all about language and location for this piece. Director, Serenity Rowland, might have done better to contain the fork and spoon in drawers so that the audience could concentrate on the cleverness of the language and the delivery of the actors.
“Toward the End” shows us a relationship breaking apart. One couple were used to represent the “before” and a second couple the “after”. The lighting design was dark and ineffective. Having the “after” couple bookending the playing area seemed restrictive and might have worked better as a Greek chorus at the side. It was hard for the “before” characters, Rebekah Brower and Andrew Knopf , to reach their required levels of excitement; and Chenoa Lynn and Ryan Milliner as the “after” characters were sitting downcast and in the dark. Keep directing, Lorean Walls, as experience helps everyone grow in skill.
As Act I opened with a daunting piece, Act II did the same with “One Question”. The stillness of the characters incorporated into this piece and the lighting did support the concept of an interrogation. Through effective text, the audience quickly moves from what might be construed as something military to something much more personal. Mike Ware, as Man, gives us depth and a host of readable emotions through the unveiling of his ultimate betrayal. Not moving but portraying emotion is never easy, and Caitlin Adams, as Interrogator, does a fine job being both intimidating and cajoling. Director, JoAnn Dawson, painted a riveting stage picture and helped the audience stay connected until the very end.
“Covert Operations” came across as a tribute to Sid Ceasar’s pivotal early TV sketch comedy. Director, Micheal Weldon, uses the characters to make fun of spies and their world. Reminiscent of the Mad Magazine spies, someone ends up dead on the floor while the spies continue creating mayhem elsewhere. Both Grayson Wrigley and Chenoa Lynn do a great job with fedoras, trench coats and secret codes. Caitlin Adams as Frida supports well as the put-upon bench sitter until her ultimate role is uncovered (or is it?). Enjoyed this little trip down TV memory lane.
Hospital maternity waiting rooms are usually places where good things happen; and director, Tess Pohlhaus, helps us grown to know and then like two people as they meet in such a room. Woman warmly portrayed by Serenity Rowland coming to the maternity area to find life and hope is beautifully juxtaposed with the portrayal of potentially repeated tragedy portrayed effectively by Ryan Milliner. Both people tell their stories and take courage from the other as the lights go down on their continued waiting.
This evening of inventive theater ended with “Leap into the Sky”. Confusion returned a bit here as Rachel (Melanie Bishop) is obviously guilt ridden, but the reason seems unclear. Perhaps Luke (Michael Weldon) is a lover or a husband or ?? The emotional levels were all there, and the direction by S. Lee Lewis presented beautiful pictures and lovely emotional motions. I just found myself needing more understanding.
All in all this evening was prepared with care and executed with energy and excitement. Everyone should be sad if they missed these introductions into the future of theatre. I, myself, cannot wait for more!
EMERGING ARTISTS: EIGHT x 10: 10 MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL
April 21 – 23, 2011
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD