Much like flash fiction, 10 minute plays loaded with fresh energy seem to captivate without sagging. The always appealing 8Tens at 8 Festival of Short Plays—produced by Actors’ Theatre through February 18—almost always delivers something you can savor on the spot, or take home and chew on. Sometimes the results just plain take your breath away, be it due to a singular performance, for example Jonathan Carter Schall in Bram Hartman’s Come On, Ref!, or ingenious characters matched by resourceful players, as in Sam Weller‘s Talking to Myself, insightfully directed by Helene Simkin Jara.
Even near-miss concepts, can spring to life in the hands of a focused actor, as John Denham Bennett, the soldier in On the Road to Tikrit proves mesmerizing, transcending the script itself. Of course, not everything captivates everyone. Several pieces were chosen for their social justice subtext, which often shouted above the dramatic setting and felt like so much preaching to the converted.
This season’s selections seemed drawn along large thematic lines, the mysteries of mortality were explored more than once in Part 1 productions, and social equity situations made their way into many of the Part 2 plays. On the whole, humor and surprise worked better than politics. And several pieces veered into sentimentality.
The Part 1 cycle of performances started off with an outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny glimpse at the real life absurdities of old age, Stop Saying That with a spot-on ensemble cast. Kudos to all! Surprise endings dotted Part 1 selections, for example in the very clever study of opposites attracting in Sense of Direction, acted with real chemistry by Scott Kravitz and Shannon Marie McDonough. Scott Kravitz again powered the haunting Signing Off, written by local actor/director Gail Thornton Borkowski. The struggle to stay normal in the face of some unknown terror was given a highly relatable scenario. A surprise ending worked its magic.
Part 2 of the cycle yielded that rarest of theater experiences—a perfect play. A charming O’Henry situation in The Stocking Exchange, by Lynnmarie May, was smartly directed by Sally Bookman, and well acted by Linda S. Gunther and always memorable Martin Sampad Kachuck. In a little over ten minutes this two-hander established its premiss, worked it up into a fever pitch, and then landed back after a very satisfying emotional arc into an “ah!” ending. The audience at the first week’s matinee was enchanted.
Every now and then the chemistry among playwright, director and actors came into entertaining balance. In Part 2, a wacky riff on predation and inter-generational conflict, The Hill, Andy Waddell and Lyndsey Marks worked a sit-com script with brisk expertise. The result, directed by Kathryn Adkins, was a delicious romp through an old, old story.
Sam Weller‘s inventive Talking to Myself, explored youth’s early ambitions mirrored ingeniously by middle-aged regrets, pulling no punches in its scathing dialogue and crisp acting by Isaac Ludington and Andy Waddell. Weller’s confident writing made this another high point of the 8Tens, Part 2.
In the final piece of Part 1, Ward Willats once again unleashed his range in a dazzling bit of absurdity called Waitering for Godot. We find Willats at a cafe table, Philip Seymour Hoffman channeling Robin Williams. Willats’ vocal abilities are limitless. Matched by Shannon Marie McDonough as the waiter waiting for him to leave after seven cups of coffee. At one point in the hilarious, sophisticated little study Willats’ character, named Godot, comes unglued and offers a dizzying monologue of increasingly outrageous clichés. Kudos to director Gerry Gerringer. A spectacular display of stage magic in an engaging evening of new, short plays.
This annual showcase is one of the reasons why we live in Santa Cruz.
8Tens@8 – thru Feb 18 – 1001 Center St, SC http://www.santacruzactorstheatre.org/