If you missed AmeriStage Players' two-day showcase of local playwrights, "A Six Pack of One Acts," there's a good chance you might see some of these plays again at other festivals, as is or perhaps reworked into longer versions. Or, maybe, the most entertaining of these diversions were just made for this event, to be forever remembered by those of us in the audience at Addison's small Stone Cottage.
Like any good festival, there was a good mix of styles and genres, mostly comedy but a little drama, too. Some of the actors were among Dallas' best-known, probably doing a favor for their playwright and director friends. For this review of the six shows, TheaterJones saw three at each matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
Things started off perfectly with Carol M. Rice's The Couch, directed by Rick Dalton. Folks, if you want to learn how to write a 10-minute play, here's how it's done: Simple concept, small cast with vivid characters and brief, well-written dialogue, all of which comment on a larger idea. In this case: What are we willing to give up for the people we love?
Dan (Nic Pfost) has been told to ditch his old, dirty sofa by his girlfriend, Amy (Morgan Justiss), who has just moved in. It's sitting out on the curb, and that's where Dan and his brah, Jake (Walker Pfost), discuss their memories of the piece of furniture. Sparkling dialogue and solid, funny performances made this Couch one worth revisiting.
Similarly, Molly Moroney's Futilitarian Hell, was a funny look at experience to which everyone can relate: The automated phone answering system.
Lydia (a terrific Moira Wilson) tries to get through to someone at her bank to dispute a double charge, but of course has to go through endless phone menus only to be transferred, put on hold and given the run-around. Linda Leonard, Lulu Ward, Trey Walpole and Kateri Cale play various types on the other end of the line, and Angie Bolling does the amazing voiceover work for the phone system. (Seriously, she must actually do that for a living.)
It was nothing too Earth-shattering, just a tight little script that tapped into recognizable human frustration, nicely directed by Ellen Locy and well-performed by the entire cast. The Big Brother ending was an unexpected surprise.
Five Minutes of Silence, written and directed by Zoe Schommer, had hint of a personal-experience, first-time script.
Serena (Lucia Welch) is a record company executive who's always talking on the phone or texting or e-mailing. She can't be bothered with things like kids and marriage, to the chagrin of the boyfriend she's leaving, Jackson (Jeff Schommer) and her sister, Mary (Sasha Truman McGonnell), who has seven children. Serena's having an affair with Percy (Andrew Kasten) and there's another character thrown in, Misty (Elisabeth Drogin), whose purpose is unclear.
Disjointed scenes, clunky acting from everyone except Welch and a "is it over?" ending dragged this play down, but at least it was only about 15 minutes long. In her notes, the playwright called it "one woman's search for silence," but she never presented Serena as someone who's looking to slow down. She seemed pretty happy with her fast-paced, self-centered life. Her end garnered no sympathy.
Elizabeth Pruitt Fenter's Happily Manipulated, which she also directed, was a cute look at how the sexes try to manipulate each other into doing what they want, whether it be having sex or deciding on a guest list for a barbecue. Tracie Foster and Greg Michniak were a married couple with some bedroom issues, Andrew Kasten was his friend, David, and Fenter played her friend Susan.
While not as funny nor as well executed as Couch and Futilitarian, the writing was nicely thought out and it was still quite enjoyable.
Gary Swaim's Noah In My Bedroom, directed by Fritz Ketchum, was one of those "hmmm...interesting" plays that might still be a work-in-progress.
Pamela (Maryam Baig-Lush) is a widow, still depressed and considering suicide, who has rethinking to do when the biblical Noah mysteriously appears in her bedroom. He doesn't know where he is, either, and still doesn't understand God's big plan. Do any of us?
The play could use some tightening, and it felt odd how quickly Pamela and her friend Amy (Lucia Welch) warmed up to the idea that this strange man was indeed the Noah (and that's even with the suspension of disbelief). But, it featured solid performances and had some intriguing ideas about our tendency to question what it's all about.
Hands down, the festival's best show was Jeffrey Swan Jones' The Bob Manus School of Acting, directed by Cliff Stephens. This play might have the greatest first two seconds of any short play I've seen, with a doozy of an ending, too.
Rick (Chris Dover) is rehearsing sides for an audition at the film acting school where Bob Manus (um, played by someone cleverly listed in the program as Bob Manus, but it's really a well-known Dallas actor) "teaches." Scott (Nye Cooper) is a potential new student who's unclear about what this school is really about. Bob, his assistant, Penny (Maria Zsohar) and Rick know, but Scott must find out for himself.
It would be unfair to give away the goings-on, but they're smart, hilarious and performed with pitch-perfect delivery and comic timing by all four actors. Jones has obviously been around film and stage actors. It's really funny stuff. This is a show you can bet might turn up in other short play festivals in the area. If you have a chance to catch it, do.