Less is More

The ten-minute play has become a genre in its own right. As the producers of Stage THIS! A Evening of F-----n Fabulous Ten-Minute Plays note, the form was “originally intended as a way for playwrights to audition their work in small-scale productions.” There are many reasons for the increasing popularity of the ten minute-play—some of them have to do with distressingly short attention spans among theater-goers. Ten-minute plays generally do not require complex staging and more playwrights get to see their work come to life. And, if a particular piece is poor, well, they’ll be another one in ten minutes. The producers of Stage THIS!, Sydney Stone and Frank Blocker, are remarkable for the respect they accord playwrights and their work, an attitude to be applauded. They want to give everyone a chance; no fewer than twelve plays are featured in this production of Stage THIS!. The production is a microcosm of what is good and bad about the 10-minute play genre. The producers’ main flaw is perhaps being overly magnanimous to more submissions than this production should logically accommodate, since most of the pieces are light comedy and the minority are grave and acutely sober.

It’s been noted elsewhere and often that the theater is currently suffering through an invasion of sit-com writers in disguise. That seems evident here; several of these plays seem to emulate “Must See TV.” Our Little Angel by Steven Korbar, about a husband and wife duking it out over a min-Hershey bar pilfered from their daughter’s plastic Halloween pumpkin, would fit in nicely as a plot in The Family Guy. I can easily imagine Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm arguing with the talented Emilie Byron at “Y-Mart” over the last package of condoms in J. Michael Harper’sThe Last Box . And Moti Margolin might as well be playing an anxiety-riddled George Costanza as he confesses to his friend Carl (Eric C. Bailey) in John Tyler Owens’Blue-Collared Dreams his recurring nightmare about performing oral sex on a male co-worker. All three of these plays are entertaining and as funny as anything you will see on television.

Yet, all this comedy sometimes confounds the earnest and solemn plays on the same bill. Piney Ridge by La’Chris Jordan, though not original in the slightest, and hobbled by poor acting by both of its male actors, grapples with the bloody 1920’s lynching of a young black man accused by a white woman of rape. While occasionally powerful, it just seems thrown in for good measure. Moonshine on the Rocks, a syrupy remembrance of love past by a now elderly woman, benefits from some exceptional slight-of-hand directing by Frank Blocker, but goes in a different direction entirely from what immediately follows, Whatever Happened to…the Three Sisters? by Bill Cosgriff, an absurd psychotic riff, anchored by the consistently excellent (she stars in three of these plays) Stacie Theon, on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. The fictional Forrest Gump’s maxim, “Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get,” may be even more applicable to a wide-ranging collection of ten-minute plays, such as those in Stage THIS!. While most of the plays are invigorating in their own ways, here are the standouts to watch for, if you go:

By the Australian playwright, Alex Broun, Saturday Night Newtown, Sunday Morning Enmore is a gentle and poignant piece about two lonely hearts who share a night of drunken romance and how the awkwardness of the morning after can be assuaged with a little light-hearted imagination. Remarkably, Night Nurse was the first play that playwright Cara Vander Wiel ever submitted for competition; it’s superb. A demented and desperately lonely nurse working the night shift, played by Ms. Theon, reveals deep and dark secrets to a comatose patient. Bobby Abid is convincing and outstanding as a high school senior tutoring a junior and falling in love with him in Johnny Ramirez Really Wants to Kiss Me.

There’s only one flat-out bomb: Evelyn J. Pine’s nonsensical and irritating Terror, Astonishment, Love, which, unfortunately, closes the show. There are some real gems here, and much accomplished acting. A bit more discrimination—-cutting out two or three of the buzzkillers or staging them elsewhere--would make a big difference in the cohesiveness of the offerings, since most of this is unmistakably comedy. That being said, this is a worthy effort that makes for an enjoyable evening of theater. I recommend seeing this if you are adventurous, enjoy all types of one-acts, particularly quick-paced comedy, and don't mind sitting through two or three slower pieces.

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