A man wakes up from a drugged sleep in his White House office. A drag queen walks into a bowling alley as he recalls his late grandma’s way with words and ball grips. A young woman learns her widowed mother is about to marry an old neighbor. An experienced hiker climbs a desert mountain from his past and encounters a young stranger, lost and thirsty. A resolutely unromantic young black woman is surprised by her own response to her mother’s determined matchmaking. And of course, a man walks into a bar, over and over, trying to find Mr. Right through an online dating service.
Six beginnings, six entrances, and the start of six plays in TeCo Theatrical Productions’ 13th Annual New Play Competition, a presentation featuring six one-act plays, each roughly 20-minutes long, halved by an intermission and a free glass of wine with the ticket. The fast and varied evening includes satire, comedy, fantasy, plus a dash of sitcom and soap. The charm is in the fresh acting and directing talent—and the comfy, nicely raked 100-seat Bishop Arts Theatre Center.
A reading committee, none of whom are TeCo staffers, selected the plays from 30 submissions. The offerings vary in sophistication from polished satire to short drama with sincerely articulated emotion, although still not ready for primetime. Watching the brief one-acts makes you realize what a swift and certain arc each playwright must create to get us engaged, care about the characters, and give us the sense of an ending—all in 20 minutes. Audiences vote for their favorite after each performance, and at the end of the run on March 31, the winner gets $1,000 cash prize sponsored by the Dramatists Guild Fund. Every vote counts, and the cheers and applause after each play reminded me of an enthusiastic poetry slam audience.
Antay Bilgutay’s Lather, Rinse, Repeat or The Dating Game is a polished, witty comedy, directed by David Kelting and starring a hefty and hopeful Shane Strawbridge as “a gay white male” who keeps revising his online dating profile towards greater honesty, as he keeps meeting awful men based, actually, on what he’s advertising. D. R Hanson is hilarious as all the miserable bad dates, from a hopeless hands-off griever to a ravenously manic sex machine. Scenes are fast and funny, and it’s a comedy, so Drew’s resigned rewrites are finally rewarded.
Victor Bravo’s Hikers, a play reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ magical realism, has an imaginative theme of a middle-aged professor encountering an increasingly familiar stranger as he climbs a mountain he visited in his youth. The timing of the revelations works, and Zahran Anwar is funny as the college kid from another era wowed by electronic gadgetry Kurt (Mark Pearson) takes for granted.
Paul Engle’s Perchance to Dream, directed by Renee Miche’al, stars a virile and conscience-driven Kenny Gardner as Robert Carter, the White House press secretary who has a sudden and helpless burst of truth-telling about the President’s policies that costs him his job, but gets his head straight.
Ruth Cantrell’s 7-10 Split is a fun ride for sassy Stacy Ann Strang as Lois Lane, a drag queen decked out in wigs designed by Coy Covington, celebrating the life and game of his late grandmother (Jessaica Shields), a badass East Texas bowler who could “chew gum in a way any bovine would envy.” Grandma also stood up for him when his dad kicked him out over his blingy feminine attire choices.
Buster Spiller’s Nappily Ever After is an energetic sketch that has fun with the ambitious yenta plot, with a twist. Jerrica Roy is hilarious as Alfreda Brooks, a black woman on a mission to get her feminist daughter out of her drab clothes and into something glam and clingy to meet a young man who’s coming to dinner. Uh huh. Gerald Taylor II gets deserved laughs as her husband, obsessed with Obama trivia and not completely under his bossy wife’s control.
Can I Call You Daddy is Sam Green, Jr’s play about a terrible family secret revealed when a widowed mother (Nadine Marissa Donaldson) tells her adult children she plans to marry a former neighbor. Laurence Pete is vivid in his shifts from aggression to fearful sobbing as the disturbed son, but the story needs more time to build to the title question.
All in all, a satisfying evening of laughter and tears. Get on over to TeCo—several performances were canceled in last week's snowpocalypse, and have been rescheduled for March 19-22—and vote for your favorite play.