Ryan Watson & Corey Music in Heads, I Win. Photo: The Bard’s Town
8th Annual Ten-Tucky Festival of Ten-Minute Plays
Various writers and directors
Review by Keith Waits
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Since it opened just a little over eight years ago, The Bard’s Town has been steadfast in its commitment to local writers through this short-play festival. This year’s line-up features a few familiar names, but the most successful entries were from writers that were new to me, and introducing new talent is exactly what Ten-Tucky should be doing.
Havocc, by Rebecca Ryland (directed by Leila Toba) was first out of the starting gate but stumbled with an underdeveloped concept and onstage performances that felt inadequate to the task. Two off-stage vocals worked better – Brigid Connelly is a better Siri than Siri, but this one never jelled.
Silent Partners, by Damaged Goods improvisor Stefan Gearhart (directed by Doug Schutte), in which a bank robber uses imaginary friends for his “gang”, is an amusing premise but I’m not sure Mr. Gearhart knows quite where he is going with it. The lack of focus is matched by overwrought playing that fails to cover the material’s weakness.
Nancy Gall-Clayton’s Mr. Fix-It Saves The Night (directed by Jason Cooper) starts with the mundane challenge to a marriage of a snoring husband and spices it up with the absurdity of a handyman who specializes in fixing the problem mechanically. It’s a slight, albeit clever idea about the fragility of marriage lifted by J.P. Lebangood’s broad and good-natured performance in the title role.
Land Of The Techies by Clare Hagen & Adam Martin (directed by Rachel Allen) positions actors and backstage theatre workers in conflict – the actors view the techies as fantasy figures, doubting their very existence, in an amusing sketch that steps more towards being a play than a lot of ten-minute pieces. The quartet of actors have a ball playing the broadly drawn comedy, but again, the concept is so simple it barely sustains for ten minutes.
Courtney Groszhans works to give a tired observation some new life in Stranger Danger (directed by Corey Music). The dangers of mobile device obsessive behavior – let us call it MDOB, has appropriately aged as rapidly as the technology upgrades itself, and Grozhans manages some bright and pointed dialogue that well captures the insanity, but she misses the larger point of how eagerly we embrace the estrangement from actual human contact. Machines make life easier but emptier.
The award for best farce would have to go to PMA And The Beast by Peter Stavros (directed by Jake Beamer). The sight of three panicked grown men in onesies, one of them brandishing a shotgun, after having their sleeping disturbed on a camping trip by some type of creature, was a terrific visual gag and cogent commentary on masculinity in the last few generations. But Cory Music, Andrew Stairs, and Jake Beamer played it just right. And nobody plays panic better than Jake Beamer.
Mr. Beamer was also in Oh, Geez, Florida, Yah by Mark Cornell (directed by Sabrina Spalding) but in a markedly more subdued mode. Rather than be large in his playing, he was adroit with smaller communications with his wife (Mandi Hutchins) in this darkly funny tale of an upper peninsula family on a Florida beach in their winter wear. When the why of things is revealed in an almost off-hand way, you understand that it is more than the Minnesota accents that remind you of Fargo, the series. The underplaying here is the right choice, and director Sabrina Spalding helps find the necessary subtle touch.
Care in the direction was also evident in Curt Himmelberger’s Perspectives (directed by Clare Hagan) which follows the shifts inside two people on a blind date. It’s been done before, but the playwright’s observations of current neurosis and identity issues are on the money, funny but wise, and there is clarity in the transitions thanks to director Clare Hagan. It was nice to see Hannah Wold play a normal character after so many impressive performances in more broadly drawn roles, some of them literally cartoons, at The Alley Theater. She and Jordan Lyons brought intriguing shades of gray to the shifts in perception.
Best of the whole evening was Heads, I Win by Gray Shaw (directed by Ryan Watson), a two-hander played by director Watson and Corey Music. It certainly was the most serious in its purpose, but the well-crafted writing was thoughtful, provocative without sacrificing nuance, and less judgmental than might have been the case in other hands. The performances take the full measure of the material, the actors’ familiarity with each other paying worthwhile dividends; Watson’s sly sideways glances playing perfectly against Music’s stalwart, no-nonsense vibe. What this play is about could have been so easily stereotyped, and it is not, and I could watch these two guys play this piece over and over again.
Featuring: Jake Beamer, Abby Braune, Nick Carter, Brigid Connelly, David Capeheart, Juniper Leslie Dempsey, Mandi Hutchins, JP Lebangood, Jordan Lyons, Sarah Mackell, Corey Music, Gerry Rose, Dan Shoemaker, Shelby Simpson, Andrew Stairs, Gracie Taylor, Ryan Watson, & Hannah Wold.
8th Annual Ten-Tucky Festival of Ten-Minute Plays
September 21-23, 28-30 & October 4-6 @ 7:30 PM
Tickets: Advanced $18/Senior/Student $15/At the Door (All Ticket Types) $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, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio 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.