Daniel Smith, Megan Brown (under blanket), Ryan Watson, & April Singer in Whistler’s Mother. Photo-The Bard’s Town
2015 Ten-Tucky Festival
Various writers and director
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
While it may be difficult to remember all of the short plays in the previous four years of Ten-Tucky Festivals, year five feels to me like one of the more successful groupings yet. My experience with most evenings of short plays is that they are often uneven in their impact and at times disassociated; there is always at least one that feels like it is entirely out-of-place. This year’s selections make a virtue out of economy and establish some nicely realized relationships between plays, so that the experience is far more cohesive and thoughtful for the audience than might be expected.
If there were an overriding theme, it would be mortality, as evidenced in three plays. Nancy Gall-Clayton’s Levels of Living (director Kathi E.B. Ellis) cleverly examines one woman’s (Carol Dines) acceptance of her after-life in limbo, nicely contrasting her embrace of a minimalist existence against an angel cum beauty queen (Carol T. Williams) who has arrived to escort her to heaven. Gall-Clayton knows what she’s after here, and wastes no time going about it, and the two actors deliver pitch-perfect performances. Darren McGee lends solid support in a brief role, and while he may not have much to do, he at least earns one of the more unusual resume credits as Custodian of Limbo.
It’s Just A Box, by Sarah Diamond Burroway (director Doug Schutte), uses overlapping dialogue like a relay between Doug Schutte and April Singer as nameless characters, as they exchange brief monologues charting a developing lifetime span of experience. The format invites sentimental indulgence, but the writing is just stringent enough to discover the humanity with restraint. Ms. Singer is especially good as the Woman of the pair, and Mr. Schutte is nicely understated as he Man.
So when Gary Wadley’s Reunion (Ben Gierhart) arrives in the latter half of the program, and another unidentified pair, Ryan Watson and Molly Kays, who may be the last two members of the 1957 graduating class of their college, play out their final days in a dementia haze, it feels a little like a sequel to Burroway’s piece. That Singer and Schutte step onstage to adjust the elderly couple in their wheelchairs may be coincidence, but it certainly reinforces a connection between the two plays. Both actors do nice work, but Ms. Kays doesn’t play the character’s age effectively, while Mr. Watson manages to suggest the physical and mental infirmities with subtlety, wit and humanity that lend the piece an even greater poignancy.
That there is this degree of unity of purpose in these three plays emphasizes the offbeat individuality of the remaining work. Jon Becraft’s A Dramatic Work Signifying Nothing (director Nick Hulstine) is also lean and quick about making its point; a sketch that ties Shakespeare and Seinfeld together with swift wit and is a showcase for a sure-footed comic performance from Tony Smith as the immortal Bard. Andrew Hoehler, Jake Reber, and Sabrina Spalding round out the tight ensemble.
Film Noir, by Andy Epstein (director Scot Atkinson), is a well-observed parody of the genre, with another perfectly executed comedic characterization by Sean Keller as the hard-boiled detective. Molly Kays fares better here as the sassy moll/secretary, and Sabrina Spalding is a delicious femme fatale with a goofy edge. Tony Smith and Jake Reber fill out the cast as the flatfoot and the exotic traveller.
Rebecca Ryland’s The Interview (director Becky LeCron) lacks the subtlety of some of the other writing, but remains a sharp satire of the homogenized American worker molded into ubiquitous servitude. Kelly Kapp, Dana Hope and Jacob Cooper fill out the roles of Interviewer, Applicant, and Stenographer with confidence.
The most enigmatic story was Brian Walker’s Hero Worship, whose vague post-apocalyptic setting for three determined survivors was underdeveloped. When one, played with single-minded zeal by Jacob Cooper, finds an old Superman comic and, with absolutely no cultural context for it, decides it documents an all-powerful deity whose return is imminent, Mr. Walker might be commenting on the danger of the insularity of obsessive fan boys.
The evening ends with Whistler’s Mother, a bit of absurdist historical docudrama from Doug Schutte. It visits the real-life friendship of Oscar Wilde (Daniel Smith) and James M. Whistler (Ryan Watson) viewed through the perspective of a hapless museum tour guide (Megan Brown). As arguments ensue about the iconic painting known as “Whistler’s Mother”, or, “Arrangement in Grey and Black, #1”, as the Whistler character repeatedly and angrily reminds us, the artist’s mother improbably joins the action. Mr. Watson again shines with a fiercely dedicated and wicked performance that depicts Whistler as something of a crazed anarchist.
As producer and co-owner of The Bard’s Town, Doug Schutte serves as an amiable and self-effacing host introducing each play. It might feel lightweight and disposable, but it actually goes a long way towards unifying the plays and building a hospitable atmosphere within which the audience can more fully connect to the material.
2015 Ten-Tucky Festival
September 17-20, 24-27, 2015 @7:30 PM
Advanced Tickets: $16 General / $14 Seniors / $12 Students Tickets at the door are $18/16/14, respectively
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 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.