Alex Haydon, Michael Smith, & Derek Wahle in Squirrels in a Knothole. Photo courtesy of The Bard’s Town.
Bard Theatre’s 7th Annual
Ten-Tucky Festival of Ten-Minute Plays
Various writers and directors
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The challenge in reviewing a program of shorts is that you aren’t necessarily provided with things like narrative structure and character arc to talk about – or at least not to the same degree. The menu of options can be scattershot, and some of the pieces are likely to come off more as sketches rather than fully developed ideas.
But we must be grateful that The Bard’s Town has stuck with it for seven years now, even if this year’s crop felt a little off in quality. Opening night was a sell-out, suggesting people want it (or that all eight playwrights’ families were in attendance on the same night), and there were several new faces among the writers and directors.
The evening opened with Different Parts, by Gary Wadley. It was a sort of fresh take on the determination of American culture to normalize horror tropes, but the jokes, while funny, were also somewhat obvious. Can anyone do anything truly new with zombies at this point? Sabrina Spalding directs Tessa McShane, Meghan Logue, Ryan Watson, and Cameron Murphy to good effect here.
An Invasive Procedure, by Jacob Cooper, was efficiently constructed and nicely played by Rachel Allen, Tony Smith, and Cameron Murphy, but the take on conversion therapy, which owed something to the classic vaudeville “doctor” sketch, felt very outdated in its references. Twenty-five years ago a joke about Melissa Etheridge being a signifier for a closeted lesbian might have been funny.
Jennifer Donlon updates the Island of Misfit Toys (from the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special) in Faux News. I liked this idea quite a bit, and director Jake Beamer draws some killer business from Tessa McShane, Sabrina Spalding, Lee Stein, Corey Music, and, most especially Will Heusers wicked turn as a gay Ken doll, but the piece misses its greater potential with some too obvious political commentary.
A daughter discovers her parents holding a mock funeral for her in Gratitude Attitude, by Ashley Flesher. I never could get a handle on what the playwright was trying to accomplish here, and it was the low point of the roster for me. Gracie Taylor directed Ashley Anderson, Janice Walter, and Ken Townsend.
There is some nice staging by director Corey Music in Murder In The Night, by Courtney Groszhans, and Meghan Logue and Ryan Watson know how to work this kind of material, but the laughs came so easily because, once again, the play felt about 20 years behind the times, so that a woman allowing a burglar into her deeply neurotic fantasy seemed regressive and nearly anti-feminist in its tone.
Alex Haydon gives a terrific performance as a teenage barista/haiku poet in Teri Foltz’ Seventeen, directed by Donald Mahoney. But it remains a slight if charming idea. Amy Davis communicates the appropriate unrequited affection for him with a touch of naiveté but otherwise seems a little uncertain here.
Sabrina Spalding and Corey Music are a pleasure to watch in The Yam Dynasty, by Abby Schroering, but once again I was not certain what the point of it all was, and do people eat yams raw? I had no idea. Directed by Ryan Watson.
The one play that worked in almost every way was Squirrels In A Knothole, by Peter Stavros. Directed with assurance by Nick Hulstine, the delightfully silly premise features Derek Wahle, Michael Smith, and Alex Haydon (excellent again) as squirrels in a tree observing human behavior until they are forced to seek refuge in a knothole after being beset upon by a hawk. The three actors are absurdly adorned with children’s squirrel hats and furry tails emerging from their backsides. Within the silliness are contained some sly observation about male bonding, the savagery of nature, and mortality. Seriously.
While much of the writing felt uninspired, the audience was engaged and vocal in their appreciation, and the general level of quality among the ensemble was pretty good. Besides the familiar but expert comedy skills of Ryan Watson, Corey Music, Sabrina Spalding, Tony Smith, and Meghan Logue, relatively lesser known faces such as Alex Haydon, Cameron Murphy, Michael Smith, and Tessa McShane made good impressions. Exposure to new talent is the crucial aspect to the Ten-Tucky Festival; that always means risk, and risk should always be encouraged.
Bard Theatre’s7th Annual
Ten-Tucky Festival of Ten-Minute Plays
September 8-10, 14-17 @ 7:30 PM
Advanced Tickets $18 ($16 Seniors, $15 Students)
All Tickets at Door are $20
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, 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.