Friday, Aug. 12, 2011

Carte Blanche Play Fest 2011 pt. 1

A Seemingly Random Sampling of theatrical moods on an Intimate Studio Theatre space

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Carte Blanche Theatre’s Play Fest opened last night. A weekend of short plays, Play Fest plays out more like a series of smaller works than an actual shorts program. The seven shorts on the program rotate through six different larger program sets over the course of this weekend. Here are some impressions from opening night:

 

Kicking a Dead Baby by Jordan Gwiazdowski 

  

Paul Matthew Madden and Bethany Peters play exes having a discussion over wine. The typical post-romantic conversation that is so familiar to so many people gradually gets be degrees more and more strange. By the end, it is positively surreal. Fools For Tragedy Artistic Director Jordan Gwiazdowski has a really fluid sense of increasing tension here. Madden does a brilliant job of playing the casually over-eager ex-boyfriend, Peters’ stage presence is entirely too nice to convincingly play the really surreal end of the girlfriend from hell. On the plus side, her presence being as sweet as it is, you really don’t know what to expect once things start coming into focus between the two characters. You know it’s going poorly between these two, but you really have no idea . . . a fun dark comedy.

Kicking a Dead Baby also runs at 8pm on Saturday and at 2pm on Sunday.

 

Rumble Young Man, Rumble by Rand Higbee

Here’s one from a playwright out of Hager City, Wisconsin who, like reasonably more local talent Neil Haven, graduated from the playwrighting program at UNLV. The play concerns a legendary boxing trainer being approached by a young Cassius Clay prior to making it big. At this stage, he’s only an amateur, but he believes himself to be the greatest and  wants to be trained by the greatest. It’s kind of a fun short . . . we’re watching somebody who looks like he’s in high school (played here by Dominique Miles) spouting the lines that Clay would later make famous as Muhammad Ali.

And though Higbee clearly centered the comedy around the absurdity of that kind of confidence in an amateur who only happens to actually be the greatest, the real heart of this particular staging was Andrew Parchman in the role of boxing trainer Angelo Dundee. Dundee was sort of like a Vince Lombardi of the boxing world, and there’s plenty of footage of him, so hardcore boxing fans are likely to take issue with a relatively young black guy playing the iconic role of a guy who looks kind of like a smaller version of Lombardi. That being said, Parchman has brilliant comic instincts here and this is a really, really fun short to watch because of him. To his credit, he’s not doing an impression of Dundee—he’s playing a classic boxing trainer with deft style and panache.

Rumble Young Man, Rumble also runs at 8:40pm on Saturday and 2:40pm on Sunday.

 

Tongue  by Dylan Zylewski

 

Its all too easy to think of a short in terms of a joke…introduction set-up punchilne. Take a bow and everybody applauds. With the right construction, a short can make for really remarkably gripping drama. I’m not absolutely certain Dylan Zylewski pulls it off here, but it’s amazing to see him try. There’s an abusive husband (Adam White.) A battered wife. (Bethany Peters) And the guy who didn’t know whether or not he should’ve said something. (Chistopher Marius)  The plot is strikingly simple, but that may be where it’s drawing its energy from here . . . that and the silence. Minnesota-bound Marquette grad Bethany Peters has a heart crushingly long time alone onstage in some kind of silence. The desire to over-emote would absolutely crush most actors in that situation, but Peters holds-up remarkably well under the circumstances. Marius is the voice of anyone who has ever wanted to say something to someone being abusive towards his family. There’s some poetic shades in the script, but the power of the final monologue is entirely the accomplishment of Marius. He’s verbally collapsing in frustration. It’s pleasantly difficult to watch. There’s real catharsis here.

Tongue also runs at 9:30pm on  Saturday and 3:30 pm on Sunday.

 

Heaven And Hell by Joshua Devitt

As much as I liked Kicking a Dead Baby, this one’s my favorite so far for a few different reasons. Samantha Paige plays a lawyer meeting a policeman friend of hers (Derek Worpel.) Once the basic elements of the story fall into place, there’s an initial plot twist that actually becomes kind of obvious. There’s another one though . . . one you won’t necessarily see coming unless you’ve read this sentence. Thankfully, Fresh Page Productions Dramaturge Joshua Devitt turns out to be a really promising playwright, so even knowing the number of major plot twists doesn’t damage your appreciation for the piece in the least.

And as good as the script is, it would probably feel kind of flat without a cast as good as this. I don’t recall ever seeing Worpel before. He’s pretty good here—playing a jittery cop strung out on caffeine off duty. Paige’s role requires her to balance pretty evenly between drama and comedy, occasionally shooting in one direction or the other for a single line. It’s a challenge Paige handles so well you’d think it was a natural posture for her.

Jessi Miller makes a cameo here as a waitress at the coffee shop. The role adds quite a bit to the play overall . . . she’s kind of a burned-out refugee from a rainbow gathering here. When I talked with Devitt after the short, I found out that he didn’t specifically write the role to be a new-age kid. Miller’s instincts with taking the role in that direction were remarkably clever for various reasons having to do with the plot.  

Heaven and Hell runs also runs at 10:10 pm tonight, 4:10 pm Saturday and 10:10 pm on Sunday.

 

Single shows cost $5 each. A full festival pass is $20. The remaining three shows premiere tonight at 8:00, 8:45 and 9:30 pm. All three repeat on Saturday and Sunday as well. For a complete schedule, visit Carte Blanche online. 

 

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