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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The 5th annual 10 minute play festival Or: The Children's Hour

Its curious that playwright’s as a whole gravitate towards three universal themes: fornication, death and children. It’s curious but not surprising, as the first two subjects are unpleasant but necessary and happen to almost everyone, while the third poises itself between the two: coming on with the sticky strings of copulation still stretching out behind them and letting us watch them begin their slide towards inevitable decay. Ahh, drama. It is of no surprise then that the 5th annual Vertigo 10 Minute Play Festival should present its renderings about mostly (but not exclusively) younglings: the kids that hang like shades in their parents memories, adults who never cease behaving childishly, or simply just tykes at play. It is appropriate that the evening kick off with the last of these categories in:

Super Super Bomb by Hannah Verdon

Directed by Will Wilhelm

It has been written their is no sound so pleasing as kids at play, provided you cannot hear exactly what it is they are saying. Verdon hooks her wit to this supposed truth by presenting us with three younglings, impersonating a llama (Sam Garrott), a peacock (Justine Gelfman), and a Komodo Dragon (Amalie Vega). For ten minutes these little mop headed innocents frolic about on stage engaging in such childish games as name calling, kidnapping and nuclear war. Wilhelm has either well coached or cultivated his cast in the loose-limb-ed-ness of play, and the players, Vega in particular, shadow their performances not only with off the wall energy but the seriousness of childishness. Though the small cruelties and wonderland shifts can grind upon ones patience, Verdon creates surprising twists but letting her monstrous little kids introduce very adult elements into their game, from the metaphorical concept of history to radiation poisoning.

Snap, Crackle, Pop by Eva Victor

Directed by Garrett Baer

A piece difficult to pin down in structure but amusing in content, Victor’s drama skips between the two worlds of Mona (Sarah Sherman): negotiating living space with her boyfriend Benjamin (Wyatt Fair) and striking up a conversation with a peculiar but affable Bassoonist Doug (Scott Egleston) on the commuter train. The play needs more of a foundation for us to uncover as we go skipping along, (A in the apartment leads to B on the train leads to....), but Victor has done handsomely by her cast in providing them with quirky but recognizably human characters, with strange faults and peculiar dreams (no sitcom stereotypes here). Sherman takes to Mona’s insecurities and laconic temperament like a fish to water, always painting herself a picture of some dreadful thing to happen and always jumping to when the thing itself bursts through the canvas.

Something Blue by Grace Gabel

Directed by Samantha Spoll

Mary (Cordelia Dewdney) has returned to her home town to congratulate her childhood friend and almost almost lover Toph (who’s actor’s name is lost to history, due to lack of a program. Sigh). Standing on the porch before his house they compare the contrasting sagas of their relationship of growing up poor, catholic and confused, the memories replayed and commented on by their “foreshdowlings” (Sam Douglas and Anna Baryshnikov). Though at times slow in its delivery or confused in the parable it wishes to share, Gabel’s play is veined with unspoken conversations and speckled with little Freudian slips (which Spoll buffs up to be most pleasing to the eye and ear). Douglas and Baryshnikov do a splendid game of give and take with the stories sexual tension, and ably handle the piercing questions they fling out of the past to prick their present counterparts. Dewdney is in fine form, a mass of nervous ticks trying to keep cool for her friend while running over every decision and might-have-been: keeping the armor up but showing us how hard it is for Mary to do so.

4. The Heart of It by Bea Cordelia Sullivan-Knoff,

Directed by Maia Nowack

In one of the most imaginative and well crafted short plays I’ve seen, Sullivan-Knoff proves a master hand at penning a work straight from the proud pedigree of the Irish problem play: dark, hysterical, and absurd as two giraffes in a bathtub. Based on an real, unsolved crime, Sullivan-Knoff takes us to a dark night in Dublin in 2012 when a brother and sister (Gracie Schwartzenberger and David Brown) break into Christ Church Cathedral. Their mission is to steal the preserved heart of St. Lawrence O’Tool, patron saint of the city and legendary reconciler, and cast it into the Liffey River, artery of the city and much of south eastern Ireland. Their purpose in mingling these two powerful unifying forces is to generate one wish: that their mum and da stop fighting and put off their divorce.

Schwartzenberger and Brown excel as the two youths or erin, with passable accents and founts of humor and humanity: she as the bristling, ill tempered mastermind counting on violence, both physical and verbal, to drive back her fear, while he, the lamenting and simple0hearted stooge, tries to reconcile his guilty conscious, struggle to figure out (in this most inappropriate of moments) his own sexuality, and batter back his own panic as his world crumbles before his eyes. Quick in its banter, high in drama, deep in probity, this dark little story of faith and family gives belly and heart ache in equal measure.

Mr. Tape by Max Abner,

Directed by Wes Humphrey

Monologue plays are tricky beasts, for to hold an audiences attention and maintain a character without slipping either into pure narrative or dull rambling requires a steady hand. It’s made doubly tricky and triply beastly when your monologist, like Roy Bullet (Isabella Thomson) is not on currently speaking terms with sanity. Fortunately Abner has sculpted enough wells and clues in Mr. Bullet’s confessions and dictations that we feel more involved in solving a psychological mystery than trapped by a crazy man, while Humphrey ensures that the discomfort is never entirely chained. Thomson herself does remarkably well in letting Bullet’s frenetic energy prey upon her, timing her bellows and whispers to equally creepy effect.

The Auction by Frankie Allegra,

Directed by Elliott Hartman

Now here was a puzzler. We find ourselves part of a great auction house where Fate (Abby Pajakowski) are well mannered but unsettled auctioneer intends to grant us all with anthropomorphized ideas while behind her images from our world slide by, and back stage a nervous young woman (Michelle Schechter) confesses to her mother (Janice Theard) that, as the embodiment of Death, no one will want to bid on her. She has a point. The rules of this world are unclear and unproductively curious, but Allegra knows how to make a reveal and build tension to heart hammering levels, as death’s fate and the fate of her buyer are weighed up to the second. Schechter invests this, our universal terror and immortal friend, with the authentic insecurity and open heartedness of a young girl, not wanting to be apart of Fate’s implacable game but unsure of how to conduct herself otherwise. Pajakowski thrills with her smooth tongued guile and frequent rufflings, as she conducts a wide cast of peculiar, highly animated characters, while a young bidder (Garrett Hanson) steeped in an adorable and well restrained show of gawkish nervousness, tries to avert disaster and bring both Fate and Death to a happy conclusion.

When We Lose It by Cemre Paksoy,

Directed by AJ Roy

Horace (Scott Wolf), Gerald (Wilson Shirley), and Rita (Talia Weingarten) three not-so close and cuddly siblings, have started on a poker game for their lives. Paksoy’s film noir-ish play, complete with asides to the audience (that are often hijacked or ridiculed by the other sibs) has zing but lacks substance. We are treated to an excellent plot device and situation but without really seeing any build or release of tension in it, the energy plateus at the level of a high stakes poker game, and impressive as it is a plateau is soon treated as a flat-line. Fortunately the cast carries out their duties with zeal, embracing their archetypal characters and handling them with dignity, always trying to find some new chip on their stoney hearts to show us.

I Never Said It Would Be Good by Sarah Turbin,

Directed by Solveig Herzum.

A poignant and perplexing piece, Turbin’s plot sets us on the third date between Ben and Penny (who’s actors names alas are not known to me and must vanish in the midst of time, again because of a lack of a program. Deep sigh). Engaged in the social game of chess, each trying to capture the most stories from the other, their prancing conversation and flourishing romance is culled by the news that Ben will soon be moving out of town and that whatever is between then will stretch and break over the distance. Goaded by a helpful but unknowingly provocative barista (Shaina Wagner), the couple decide to cast the niceties of nervousness aside and learn as much about each other as they can, through which Penny makes a strange and wonderful discovery. Slow and stumbling as it sets up the world, Turbin’s prose finds a settled playful rhythm of what we wish was the conversations we had with our significant others, as well as some eerie and mysterious overtinges. Turbin also deserves a nod for being the most mindful of the designers in her production, giving both light and sound plenty to play with. Ben and Penny embrace Turbin’s very human banter, as well as an ability to cut off their commingling and draw back within themselves as the play takes its darker turns. Wagner is overdrawn in comparison but adds a dash of real world spice into the mix, and her addled humor is charming in the extreme.

9. Burnin’ Room by Juli Del Prete,

Directed by Ari Shapiro

And now we come to the time of miracles. Joleen (Zoe Maltby) lies sprawled in a hospital waiting room at dawn, waiting for her sister to give birth. Attended by the cheerful and spiritually-sound nurse Jesus (Aurora Real de Asua) and a demonic cuckoo clock, while feeling her sisters pain and fearing the oncoming deluge of fluids that accompany a new life, Joleen is encountered by her old friend from school (Kyle Sherman) who is in turn waiting on the birth of his first child. Reliving old times both find themselves stumbling over the graves of secrets long buried, which now claw their way to the surface. I must confess, until tonight I had not seen a 10 minute play that could so easily squeeze a whole stories worth, (not hurriedly condensed, not expositionized, not suddenly severed), into its eponymous frame. Glowing with humor, solid and well rooted in its human honesty, enticing, gripping but never revealing in its mind twists and belly blows, Del Prete creates a masterpiece in Burnin Room, sweet as sunlight, funny as misery, and bitter as roads not taken. Shapiro serves the script well (though the two different ringing noises of the clock were perhaps ill advised) and cultivates his cast to wild expressions so that they are free to scale back unveil the fruit of their intimate and delicate findings. Real de Asua, taking pleasure in the very ethnic Jesus, radiates kindness and gently joshing humor. Her comedy comes not from the broad stereotype but from the eagerness nurse and actor have for the miracle over in the next room and enticing as many people to witness it as possible. Sherman, for his part, bottles the nervous energy of an expectant father and the energetic nervousness of finding his old crush after ten years separation. The very picture of kindness, it’s a great surprise to see this young man trot out his own jests and horrifying to see him slowly consumed by the internal fires of his past mistakes. Maltby is, I’m very sad to say, indescribably superb. I wish I could find the right words to pin down the roundness of character and graceless, sleep deprived grace she brings to Joleen, with her nervous flutterings, erupting rages and tender tenderness. To note the poor dear try to overcome her fear of this nerve wracking situation, or see her skillfully but not imperceptibly daub on politeness in enquiring after the current occupant of what could have been her destiny or watch her be wracked by doubt over the life she so carefully steered and boldly chose. Del Prete’s play is a majestic and mesmerizing piece that I could watch for two hours if it did not so perfectly fit its time limit.

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