Sunday, January 16, 2011

14/48: Good for the soul; now how do we feed it until July?

Sunday afternoon is kind of a downer. 14/48, the world's quickest theatre festival, is over. It won't be back until July.

In the space of nine days the festival gave us 28 world-premiere one-act plays. That's a festival worth celebrating!

This second weekend of the festival was a little uneven. Friday night's shows in general weren't all that memorable. Perhaps a difficult theme, "Worse Than Death," had something to do with that. Most of the playwrights went TO death, or beyond it, or to some alternate place of existence such as prison, heaven, or someplace on the other side of the Large Hadron Collider.

There were a few bright spots. In Force Quit, written by Wayne Rawley and directed by Annie Lareau, Keith Dahlgren is delightful as a sadistic IT support guy who tortures poor Brian D. Simmons, who is going to lose his job if Dahlgren can't find a lost file, or if he lets management know about the interesting websites Simmons has visited on company time. Susanna Burney and Teru McDonald were hilarious as two workers trying to advance their careers at the donut shop by winning the favors of the manager (Evan Mosher) in All of the Holes, written by Kelleen Conway-Blanchard and directed by Bret Fetzer. Burney, her bosom smeared with jelly donut filling, wins.

Bridezilla and the Monster Dimension, written by Matt Smith and directed by Greg Carter, was a wild circus that had one great pun that got a belly laugh out of me. The troupe is on the way to a wedding in the Large Hadron Collider, for which the groom said the cost was "astronomical." I thought it was really funny, and then the bride corrected him, saying the collider didn't have anything to do with astronomy. Personally, I'd say she's wrong. If sorting out the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity isn't about astronomy, what is?

Saturday night was much better, with a theme of "Cheaters Never Prosper" resulting in some funny plays. In Severance Pay by Rawley and directed by Fetzer, Trick Danneker and Jaime Roberts convince Shawn Belyea to let them chop off the tip of his little finger, part of their dubious plot to bring down the fast food industry. Revenge of the Goldfish, by Brandon J. Simmons and directed by Greg Carter, was a hilarious self-referential play about the theater industry, in which the audience, McDonald, winds up strangling the playwright, Simmons, for turning out crap. (Though my Sweetie, the official scorer, says self-referential humor is cheating and cheaters never prosper.) Larson vs. Whammy, by Celene Ramadan and directed by Lareau, was a riot as Don Darryl Rivera figured out how to beat the game show "Press Your Luck," then lost his fortune and was forever haunted by Whammies. One of the whammies sat on my knee, too.

Boombas, written by Elizabeth Heffron and directed by Brian Faker, was marvelous, as cheating spouse Dahlgren faces off against his wife (Alyssa Bostwick), their shrink (Burney) and his mistress (Annette Auger), a Latvian who does him "twice a veek." Once they determine that Dahlgren's problem is that his wife's boombas aren't "pert" any more, all three women tear off theirs, leaving all six on the stage and creating a certain amount of freedom.

I couldn't find any photos on line from this weekend's 14/48
plays, so here's a shot of Lisa Viertel from the 2009
production of Penguins at Annex Theatre.
My absolute favorite of the weekend was Gertrude and Tonya Watch the Twitter, written by Smith and directed by Richard Ziman. In the show Lisa Viertel and Deniece Bleha are two old bats at the retirement center sparring over the rights to date the most eligible bachelor in the joint, so deemed because he still has his hearing. Viertel is a riot as an obscenity-spewing old woman in a wheelchair. She and Bleha also squabble about whether they should see a movie; Viertel prefers to watch her Twitter feed, because it's full of celebrities talking to each other. "Isn't that what a movie is?" asks Bleha. The two end up in a knock-down-drag-out fight, in which Bleha, who uses a cane, has an advantage over the wheelchair-using Viertel. Naturally, they finish on the floor in a lip lock. It doesn't sound so hilarious as I describe it, but it worked, and Viertel in particular is a crazy funny actor. She was, by the way, chosen this weekend for the Mazen Award for veteran 14/48 participants for their contribution to the spirit of risk taking and camaraderie embodied in the festival's process. Well deserved!

This show also featured an example of why my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I often urge theatre folks to eschew whiz-bang techie stuff and let the text and the actors carry the day. The show featured the actual tweets from the celebrities projected on the back wall. However, in the 8 p.m. show the projection didn't work, and all we saw up there was the "no signal" test pattern. They'd ironed the bugs out by the 10:30 show, but I thought it distracted from the great acting of Viertel and Bleha, and didn't really add anything. When Viertel, looking at her phone, growls, "Britney, you crazy whore," you don't have to see an actual tweet to know it's funny!

Many thanks to everyone involved in 14/48. Even if the plays don't always work, it's always a great time. We can't wait until July!

No comments: