Mariana McClellan in Hero Dad, at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Photo by Alden Ford.
Saturday night, I had the privilege to sit in a packed house among an energetic crowd watching fine, young talent give their all in three short plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. These are new plays by young writers, culled from the Apprentice Showcase produced earlier in the season. For this presentation the cast was comprised of equal parts apprentice and professional actors featured in other plays in the Humana Festival. Coupled with awards given out by the American Theatre Critics Association and The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Foundation, and a few words shared by Actors Theate of Louisville’s new Artistic Director, Les Waters, the evening was a celebration of American playwrights emerging from all across the country in various regional theatres, including Actors Theatre.
The Dungeons and the Dragons (written by Kyle John Schmidt, directed by KJ Sanchez) was a strong start for the evening. Jordan Brodess plays Brett, the dungeon master in a kooky live-action version of the popular role-play game that shares a name with the play’s title. The ensemble piece consisted of four quirky high schoolers living in a fantasy world where anything they wish and want is possible. The three game “characters” are Sean Mellott, Sarah Grodsky and Trent Stork. Each of them literally and hilariously becomes a character within the Dungeons and Dragons game, but it’s Stork who steals the show. Donning roller skates and a fashion sense stolen from Ziggy Stardust, Stork accurately and effeminately plays Felicity Hydrangea Karmikal. By the play’s end, Karmikal resiliently triumphs above bullying and diversity. His performance sparkles as radiantly as the scepter he carries throughout the scene.
Hero Dad (written by Laura Jacqmin, directed by Sarah Rasmussen) shifted to a dramatic tone as three men experience unmarried fatherhood from different perspectives. Kate Arrington plays three different women as she transcends through three vignettes. Whether she is being hit on by a single father with a constantly crying child (Alex Moggridge), or issuing a complaint to a downstairs neighbor (William Connell), Arrington handles the briefly sketched range of characters quite impressively. The play takes a darker turn when Arrington becomes a woman waiting in an abortion clinic while talking on the phone with the father of her unborn child (Mike DiSalvo). I pondered whether bringing up such controversial issues was appropriate for a night of celebration. I would’ve like to have asked the playwright why he chose such a contrast between two light and comical scenes in which the male characters flirt heavily with the woman they encounter against a serious flip in action where a man changes his mind about an abortion. The tonal shift made Hero Dad seem slightly out of place compared to the two plays that frame it in this program.
They certainly saved the best for last in The Ballad of 423 and 424 (written by Nicholas C. Pappas, directed by Sarah Rasmussen) – a piece “based, in part, on William Shakespeare’s 23rd Sonnet,” says the program. As any literary scholar will tell you, sonnets by the Bard were usually about love. So it goes without saying that this quick-moving and hilarious boy-meets-girl play delivers the romantic goods. David Barlow and Kate Eastwood Norris play Roderick and Ellen: an eccentric novelist and a bubbly blonde waitress. Barlow and Norris play off of each other with such delightful chemistry and timing that it only makes you wish the play was longer than 10 minutes. As this is a love story at heart, I don’t think I have to tell you how it ends.
This fresh, new group of ten-minute plays provided an eclectic night of entertainment. that perfectly emphasized the theme of new, emerging voices in American theatre and was received with loud enthusiasm throughout. Although I’m not surprised, this was an evening that was worthy of many cheers and a fitting close to this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The Ten-Minute Plays
March 31-April 1, 2012
Part of the 36th Humana Festival of New American Plays
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner