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AtTENtion Span: A Festival of 10-Minute Plays–Part I

October 28th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Cleveland Public Theatre has thrown its hat into the ring of the 10-Minute Play Festival trend that has been, for many years, sweeping the theatre world. And tonight, well, I went to check it out.

There were 8 plays in 120 minutes. Perhaps someone else can do the math on this; or maybe I’m a poor sport for being so literal? The whole experience was playful and well-orchestrated. Narrators and “guides” came on to introduce the play and the whole Gordon Square theatre space was utilized for the production. Each piece was executed in a different space throughout the whole of GS and so the audience had to be spritely mobile throughout. I dragged my chair around the space for two hours and then, impolitely, forgot to put it back’as the rest of the audience was responsible enough to put their chairs away: well, most of them. I started next to a black curtain at the back of the house that separated the theatre space from the concessions and box office, and ended up a the front of the house looking back’and up’over the area from which I had originated.

My Date with a Zombie

Written by Steve Strangio, Directed by Christopher Johnston

This play begins with an homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The two “main” characters of the piece come dancing in to the aforementioned anthem of the 80s. Jen, the dead woman (Saidah Mitchell) is a wily zombie looking for love and a fresh bit of meat from Bob (Tom Kondilas) who also is looking for love and willing to take a chance on a zombie. The short piece begins with the unlikely pair meeting at a restaurant in Zoho (the zombified counterpart to Soho, of course’and is possibly a critique of it, a la Scorsese’s After Hours) and utilizes an abundance of puns and short quips that one might expect’such as that mentioned above (Jen is looking for some ‘fresh meat’), as well as the possibility that the loving couple would get to eat a young man named Jose, leading Jen to state that she loves “eating Mexican.” It also takes shots at modern political correctness with Bob’s insensitive zombie references being corrected by Jen to “Undead Americans.” Other puns include, when the appetizers arrive, ‘finger food’ as well as several misunderstandings between Bob and the zombie’ eh um ‘Undead American waiter’ Joe Milan. Adding a strange dimension to the whole piece is the repetition of certain words by a coterie of off-stage “zombies.” For instance, when Jen says, “try some of the fingers” or whatever, the coterie behind the black curtain would call out in shrill whispers “fingers!” Soon, the main course arrives, a newly captured quadriplegic’Tom (Ryan Smith)’who, though still alive, is perfectly willing to be the menu’s main entre. The whole thing is too much for Bob, who decides that Jen is not worth the dinner or the hassle’after all, he tired one finger and couldn’t stomach it. Bob, who runs away, returns moments later as a zombie, reporting that he had been attacked by a mob of zombies. Bob and Jen are finally able to be together “eternally,” not until “death do they part,” but literally, until they “fall apart.” The highlight of this piece for me is when Jen begins to eat the first appetizer, a finger with a ring on it, and asks Bob if he’s got something planned and is trying to “tell her something.” This was a good little piece, well directed and well acted, and everyone, including the audience had fun with it.

Antarctica (purity)

Written by Anton Dudley and directed by Fred Gloor

Tells the tale of what I believe is a married couple long on the outs who, by the end, have found a way to renew their love. At the outset, they are sitting in separate chairs in a large sand-filled box with a filtered spot on the wall behind them very much resembling a burning hot sun. The wife (Teresa McDonough) complains of the unbearable heat and the husband (Derek Coger) counters by explaining that some people would kill for the heat they take for granted. Each continually wipes sweat from his/her forehead and bemoan their boredom. The shallow conversation that they continually turn to regarding the temperatures that surround and overpower them and the dreadful ennui that they endure is interrupted by the arrival of a postal employee (Shawn Galligan) who also bemoans his fate’of endlessly having to “give” away letters and packages while never receiving anything himself. While he bemoans this fate, he tells, in passing, the story of how 5 goose-necked swans appeared to him and then merged together to form one glorious man with blue-veined wings for arms. How when he touched the glorious incarnation of this man he forgot all that he had previously known and dreaded and knew, finally, love and wanted nothing more than to depart with the goose-man. Instead, he was overpowered by threats from his boss to get back to work delivering things, and sadly he listened. Finally, bored with his story, the couple asks if he has something to deliver. Indeed, he does, and the postman gives the woman a plain box wrapped in brown paper and string. The couple argue over the package’who it’s for, who it’s from’and turn their backs on the postman who, per his bemoaned fate, is no longer of interest to the couple. The couple note that the package is from Antarctica and try to figure out who they know from that place. They tear the package open only to find a strange chunk of clear solid material that looks like a diamond’but is sweating. There is much to do over the piece of ice: lots of poking and prodding and the man, who touches it, describes how he has been burned. In the end, the couple watches the ice melt, an event that catalyzes the woman into a terrifying emotional revelation: she begins weeping and says of the ice “it hates us,” and then “I hate us.” She says, “I’m vanishing. I’m shrinking…who sent me here.” The whole terrible display prods the, to this point, dull husband into action and he comforts, pleads with, and consoles his wife’presumably being the first time that they have made both physical and emotional contact in a very long time. This contact and demonstration of feeling leads the woman to say, at the end, “It stopped,” referring to the unbearable heat. And we are given to believe that now all will be well. There is much that is strange and delightful about this piece and I think it may be influenced by Sartre’s No Exit, as that is what I was very much reminded of, aside from the fact that Dudley clearly has a more optimistic view of human nature and what is possible’as the couple did find an exit from their existential disaster.

Make Yourself Plain

Written by Mike Geither and directed by Jaime Bouvier

Make it Plain tells the story of two co-workers, Sandra (Felicita Sanchez) and Randy (Shawn Galligan) who each have a strange fascination with photocopying their bodies and carrying the copies around in neat little folders. They perform this photocopying surreptitiously, occasionally leaving behind a body part or two for the other to pick up. There are several funny and partially meditative scenes in which the co-workers, independently, sing and perform various movements akin to yoga and then contort their faces and photocopy them. Sandra tells of her overworking, her insomnia, and how she managed to photocopy her entire self onto 75 pages and then 15 by duplexing and reduction. All this while providing a litany of technical information about the specific copier model that her office uses. Randy talks about going to the Natural History Museum with his son (while he strips to his skivvies next to the photocopy machine) and how overcome he was by the dioramas of the cavemen and cavewomen who hunted, breast fed, and pursued their daily lives which were filled with purpose and meaning: how they knew what was important. Randy contrasts this with the lives he sees around him: men and women staring endlessly at lighted screens and talking on phones and masturbating in offices and, of course, photocopying themselves. How strange a life it is when compared to the other’and what will the future members of our race think of us when looking back. Sandra and Randy break from this scene to one in which they eat lunch together. Randy stumbles through an attempt to get a more meaningful relationship with Sandra’including asking her to lunch despite the fact that they are eating already. Sandra confesses that her dog died, and then her dad had a heart attack and the surgeon working on her father died and the surgeon after that died and the priest at the cemetery died, and so on, providing a list of terrible death associations that she carries along with her no matter where she goes. Randy reveals that he found Sandra’s folder next to the copier, and after Sandra runs off explosively details how he envisions himself all dressed in white as a gallant highwayman wearing a red sash and riding a white horse. He mixes this desultory tale with that about a game of Texas hold’em with his father-in-law. And later, finally, Randy confronts Sandra and reveals his love for her and her beauty and couches it all in various mythic motifs mixed heavily with sundry advertisements from television; “I am the Phoenix, I rise…support your public television stations by calling this number now…” and so on. The play ends soon after Randy’s admittance, when he provides Sandra a copy of his own folder, from which she selects four copies and tapes onto the side of the copier for all to see: a face with puckered lips, a right and left hand, and a chest with the hairy nipple of Randy at center’which I, from a distance, mistook for a heart. All-in-all a very engaging piece and one which my mind will no doubt flip and turn around for many days to come. Such is how I always find myself when confronted by Mike’s highly interesting and confounding work.

In the Cool, Cool, Cool

Written by Peter Papadopoulos and directed by Fred Gloor

In the cool, cool, cool is a piece of crap, crap, crap. I hate to be so blunt and don’t mean to be nasty, but there were so many things to not like about this piece that I haven’t got much that’s nice to say. The premise is a surgery being performed on a man who will die by the end of the play and the gossipy atmosphere and intertwined lives of those surgeons and nurses in the room around him. Each character gets a chance to tell his/her tale, but I have to admit that as things moved on I was not particularly interested in them: a lecherous surgeon who’s cheating on his wife with the nurse (cliché) who’s a single mom, another nurse who narrates (horrors of blunt narration), and a patient on the table who’s condition is not stable and who repents his life and lies as he dies. Per the last half of that last sentence, for some reason the playwright chose to present the majority of this play in a succession of dimwitted rhymes, such as “he knew he was in trouble when he was seeing double” and…blah blah blah There is little in this play for the audience to get its head around, as the play is pretty much told to you: the nurse did this, then a monologue; the surgeon did this, then a monologue; the patient did this, you guess it, monologue’and so on, ad infinitum. This one did nothing for me.

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