|Photos: Michelle Bates|
Before Friday, it had been 42 days since we'd seen a play. That's too long. The first weekend of this January's 14/48, The World's Quickest Theater Festival, hosted at ACT, came just in time. And was it ever good for the soul.
Friday's theme was "It's All Part of the Plan." My first thought was, oh good, lots of plays about fundamentalists. And indeed we had a couple. In one of our favorites of the evening, Planning for Disaster, written by Maria Glanz and directed by K. Brian Neel, Megan Ahiers and James Weidman delight as a couple who come face to face with god, are not smote, come face to face with each other, and are smitten. Ahiers is hilarious as the hausfrau who cracks a bit under the stress of a false alarm and blurts out lots of deliciously naughty words and wants.
|Terri Weagant and Sara Mountjoy-Pepka|
The highlight of the weekend was Exactly What You Would Do, a beautiful love story written by Scotto Moore, directed by Ryan Higgins, and superbly acted by Terri Weagant and Sara Mountjoy-Pepka playing a futuristic, head-over-heels-in-love engaged couple. Mountjoy-Pepka's character comes home to her fiancée with some startling news from work. She's accepted an assignment as chief medical officer to a planet 15 light years away. What begins as a rather typical argument about life and wedding and career plans quickly becomes difficult as we discover along with Weagant's character that her fiancée can be cloned. That, in fact, she already has. That, in fact, she has already left on her assignment—making the woman who came home that night the clone. In the end, Weagant's character accepts her cloned fiancée, recognizing, and telling her—that's exactly what you would do. This was one of the times when it really paid to see both the 8:00 and the 10:30 shows; at the closing night show we appreciated all the nuances of the performances even more.
Workin' Girls, by Scot Augustson and directed by R. Hamilton Wright, was perfectly cast by the ice cream cone gods of 14/48 and brilliantly set in the 40s. Pretty boys Jason Harber and Shawn Law were a hoot as mannequins-turned-lotharios, Jennifer Jasper was a riot with sidekick Aly Bedford as dreamers with imaginations so much bigger than the Wichita Woolworth, and Roy Stanton turned in a series of perfect villains, from uptight store manager to Nazi to Indiana Jones' evil twin. Great fun.
The theme for Saturday night was "Bedtime Stories." Friday night after the show some of us were speculating whether we'd get dirty, or creepy, or silly plays. It turns out that given the theme "Bedtime Stories," 5 out of 7 playwrights will write about grief and loss, loneliness and separation. Usually I laugh all the way through a night of 14/48; Saturday I went home with that vague hangovery headache you get from crying; and I wouldn't have missed a moment of it.
The night opened with The Story of Us, by Patrick Scott and directed by Erin Kraft. Shawn Law is one of those actors who can do vulnerable to turn your heart inside out (Hamlet), and he and the ensemble of Amy Love, Jason Harber, and Andrew Litzky turned in gutsy, heartfelt performances in this touching, funny, wrenching story of a veteran's instructions to his combat buddies to enact "the story of us" for his widow.
The Way It Was, by Brendan Healy and directed by R. Hamilton Wright, was an equally touching story of a man struggling to say goodbye to the woman he loves, on life support after an accident. Megan Ahiers and Joseph P. McCarthy played it with frank emotion and no sentimentality, so it packed a wallop even as their characters' quirkiness and honesty made us laugh.
The Olive Bed by David Drummond and directed by Jennifer Jasper was a delightful retelling of Odysseus (Mark Boeker) coming home to Penelope (Kate Jaeger), and Penelope testing him after 20 years of separation; Marcy Rodenborn provided comic relief, hilarious as the exasperated Eurycleia.
Cover Me by Scot Augustson and directed by Andy Jensen was a story of lives that intertwine after each is bereaved by unexpected loss from tragedies that strike young. Bravely performed by Ashley Bagwell, Terri Weagant, James Weidman, Aly Bedford, and Morgan Rowe.
After all that, it was a relief to get a funny play to close the night; Coming to a Conclusion by Scotto Moore and directed by Alan Bryce. Orgasms are funny, and so are Orgasm Machines that come with a manual as big as a volume of the encyclopedia. Five very fine actors—Charles Leggett, Patrick Lennon, Daniel Christensen, Heather Gautschi, and Llysa Holland—were game and enthusiastic and the ACT lobby furniture fashioned into a bed held up admirably. Yet even this play ended on a pensive note, as the two couples declined a perpetual, group, machine-induced orgasm in favor of keeping their individual identities, abandoning the toy in favor of sex and companionship with their lovers, while the themes of isolation and loneliness emerged again for the single character, who declined an invitation to get a burger with her friends and is left alone with five Orgasm Machines in a sound-proofed room.
The band is always one of the best things about 14/48. They write, adapt, and arrange songs and transitions and effects for all seven plays. They perform and interact and react to what is happening on stage. Live, original music and talented musicians as inseparable part of the theater-making. It should be like that more often. The cello was a wonderful addition. Yes, Alyssa Keene, Annie Jantzer, and Heather Mullin fronting the band really was like the sirens scene from O Brother Where Art Thou, whether they were in their plunging red dresses (Friday night), jammies (Saturday first act), or negligees (Saturday second act). The guys looked good too: Alan Echison, drums; Dave Pascal, bass; Nate Bogopolsky, guitar; Justin Huertas, cello; and David Anthony Lewis, keyboards.
We were delighted to read on the blog Friday that Alyssa Keene had won the Mazen Award for the weekend. Well deserved. We love her singing and acting, and are always glad to see her name on the bill for the 14/48 band.
Thanks to the bloggers for helping make the hours go by on Friday and Saturday before curtain: José Amador, Holly Arsenault, and Laurie Rose; and to Michelle Bates for all the great pics. See 'em all at the 14/48 Facebook page.