If it’s April then it must be time again for Finnigan’s Festival of short plays. After six years, the determinedly adult and offbeat evening continues to push the boundaries and find the edge. To state that such a risky recipe for theatre may provide uneven results is entirely too obvious an observation, and the happy report is that this selection stands as one of the strongest yet.
The Life and Times of Brittany the Chicken revisits the same very odd poultry and white-trash obsessions featured in previous Festivals from co-author Sherry Deatrick, but with greater comic clarity in this new update fashioned in collaboration with Brian Walker. It is here broken into segments that bridge the gaps between the other pieces and provides a showcase for Michael Roberts’ talents, not least of which is the most piercing chicken cluck in town. Kelly Kapp and Brian Walker are also a hoot and a holler in support.
Tad Chitwood’s Status offers intriguing examination of human interaction in the age of digital relationships, with solid work from its cast, although the motivation for having its two female cast members disrobe seemed elusive, while The Gift from the Gift Shop plays very much like one of the Nick and Cory stories from writer Corey Music: a chaotic and funny goof on two young men shopping for a sword.
I Saw Mommy and Santa Claus, from Todd Zeigler, is a perhaps too obvious riff on children spying on Christmas Eve, although April Singer shines as the youngest, and Ben Unwin’s So Many Dicks delves into a raucous house party scenario that is nicely realized with particularly effective sound design and a good performance from Mr. Unwin himself.
Sexual politics is a dominant theme throughout the program, from Becky LeCron’s feminist-minded In the Driver’s Seat, which featured a singular comic performance from Briana Clemerson, to Andy Epstein’s The Big V, which skirts cliché but manages to end on a sweet and simple note of tenderness as a high school reunion provides the opportunity for a late night assignation. Brian West and Abby Braune do nice work together here.
Genial crudeness defines Dry Erase BJ, in which a woman sits with a sign advertising sexual favors for cash in a shopping mall. Brian Walker’s tidy & economical script upends the conventional moral attitude towards prostitution with humor and the most graphic adult moment of the night, and Jane Mattingly lends the role enough stubborn dignity to ground it against the cheap and tawdry.
Dreaming on Empty, by Ben Gierhart, was a well-observed exchange between two co-workers, well played by Michael Mayes and April Singer. It is here, in Ms. Singer’s work, that one finds the best performance of the evening: alert and alive in the moment, her spontaneous energy made the dialogue seem organic and her emotions as fluid and natural as real life.
One of the more ambitious pieces was Mitch Field’s Silverman, in which the brutal and tragic relationship between a father and son is explored in a challenging structure that struggled at times for clarity, but managed a performance of raw emotion from Eric Welch and some nicely underplayed moments from Sean Childress that was undeniably powerful. Michael Mayes and Chet Gray were solid support players.
The evening concluded with an intriguing science fiction story in which finding out your mother is not who you thought she was is given a unique twist in Rachel White’s The Mother Machine. In the best tradition of the genre, a robotic parent prompts questions of identity and familial role-playing and gives Becky LeCron a showcase moment as Mother.
In the past, the concept of Funky, Fresh Fun has occasionally allowed outrageousness for outrageousness’ sake, but this year’s crop of shorts from local scribes worked surprisingly well as a family of plays, and was smartly produced and directed with quality and consistency belying the large creative team at work. The Finnigan Festival is not the only local program of short plays that will be available this season, but it is the standard against all others can be measured.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner