Saint Bob by Tad Chitwood
Finnigan’s 8th Festival of Derby City Playwrights
Various writers and directors
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Yes, its time for another Finnigan’s Festival. Another year of calculated edginess, except…where is the “Funky, Fresh, Fun.”
About half way through its life as Louisville’s premiere shorts program I began to find the concept of experimental shorts already beginning to devour itself from within: the funky, fresh edginess was at times too self-conscious for my taste. Shocking the audience with language, sexuality, and offbeat subject matter is all well and good, but it must be supported by good writing. But I give due credit to founder Brian Walker for never going more than a season or two without changing up the criteria, so that Finnigan never grew stale. This year he has jettisoned the previous years open submission process for a slate dedicated to the ambitious offshoot of Derby City Playwrights. Even though these writers are familiar to regular devotees of the old FFFFF, it still represents a commitment to the larger goals of developing local talent. No one can accuse Mr. Walker of half measures.
The most entertaining pieces in this year’s program employed fantastical elements to tell their story. Bryce Woodard’s In The Closet (directed by Olivia Plath) deposits a young man (Mike Mayes) and the monster from his closet, Tornash (Brian West) in session with a therapist (Kelly Kapp). It’s a simple idea that relies for much of its impact on the Tornash character, who is given a forceful, surprisingly dignified (for a monster) presence and delivery by Mr. West. Although he sports a cape and horns, the realization of the misunderstood demon owes more to the manner in which the actor cannily uses his physical presence.
And in the Silence Penquins Come, written by David Clark and directed by Angela Miller, is a wonderful exploration of the ‘awkward silence,’ in which a man and a woman in a car are plagued by penguins whenever they aren’t talking or playing music. Joe Hatfield and Jessica May do fine work here, and Ms. May’s delivery has particular bite, but they may be a little upstaged by the female ensemble tasked with bringing penguins to life onstage. Jane Mattingly, Meg Caudill, Kelly Kapp, and Tamara Dearing were just silly as could be allowed as the flightless birds.
Rachel White’s American Goddess (directed by Melinda Crecelius) is a fairly thorough critique of contemporary fashion’s ruthless breakdown of the female form and the impact on women’s self-image. It is scathing and well acted, if a bit didactic. The message is important and worth reinforcing, but while Ms. White’s thoughtful text is on target, it has little new to say on the subject.
A less polemical tone came into play in other pieces, such as Eli Keel’s Sausage Fest (directed by Kelsey Thompson). The array of different male personalities that surround an ailing man’s bedside: lover, brother, etc. is nicely observed and well played by Mr. Hatfield, Mr. West, Michael Roberts, Bryce Woodard, and Corey Long. Mr. Long and Mr. Mayes return with Ben Unwin’s Cruise Control (directed by Patrick Bias), a tight and economical homage to Scorcese and Tarantino that had a fine sense of macabre humor.
Two plays about the 21st century marriage of technology and human experience were Becky LeCron’s Chipped (directed by Briana Clemerson) and Brian Walker’s Gamers 4 Life (directed by Natalie Fields). Ms. LeCron’s take on embedded digital mood chips is science fiction in the truest sense: imagining the next step taken with available technology and how it would alter the human experience by exploiting our worst appetite for sensationalism. Mr. Walker’s piece on the interconnectedness of video gamers is a pair with the earlier work from Rachel White: forensic in its examination of the theme but not as fresh as this writer’s best material.
Todd Zeigler’s Gateway (Lucas Adams) had fun playing with some sci-fi portal, time-travel concepts inspired by Dr. Who and Star Trek, and felt more like the seed of a longer piece more than anything else we saw this year. Saint Bob, by Tad Chitwood (directed by Jeremy Sapp) was a fair romp of psychological absurdity played with intelligence and timing, especially Tamara Dearing and Natalie Fields. It opened the evening, followed by Amanda Haan’s Safety (directed by Ben Unwin), which seemed to echo something of the first piece, if not the absurdist tone.
Two sets of scenes provided connective filler between the plays. Act One featured Stops, by Ben Gierhart (directed by Michael Drury), which followed the eventful day on a city bus that included a cell phone snatch-and-run, a epileptic flasher and die-hard U of L Cardinals fan, and a tumultuous and singularly strange lover’s quarrel. Mr. Gierhart’s taste for channeling urban craziness was impressive. After intermission, Nancy Gall-Clayton’s A Deal (directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis) played out the concept of Tinkerbell (a perfectly cast April Singer) who is now counseling the Fairy Godmother (Becky LeCron). It was perhaps less successful for being broken up into small scenes, but seemed a worthwhile entry in the contemporary trend of updating and repurposing of fairy-tale characters, and the interaction between the two actors made me wish it had been played out as one piece.
Finnigan’s marketing efforts emphasize that the “funky” and the “fresh” are still very much in evidence, but I came away from this 8th festival feeling like there was a difference in the material. The writing is pushing itself a little more, and while it makes the overall evening a little less cohesive as an entertainment, it points to the slight shift in mission that underlies it. There is a more serious, conscious sense of purpose at work here. It should be applauded.
Finnigan’s 8th Festival of Derby City Playwrights
April 2-11, 2015
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]