Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011

Carte Blanche Studios' Play Fest 2011: Part 2

The parade of new short works on an intimate studio theatre stage.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Carte Blanche's First New Plays Festival—a one weekend affair—ran for four nights. The second set of shorts joined the rotation on Friday night. I had the opportunity to see the last three shows to open on matinee Saturday. Here are some impressions:

 

This Is My Charity by Ken Morgan

Directed by Emily Craig, this was a comic bit starring Christopher Weis as the head of an energy company being confronted by representatives from three of the non-profit organizations he’d ceased donating to. Kind of interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the pebble I pulled out of the heel of my shoe while watching the play. I looked at the pebble for a whole minute. The short would’ve been a lot more charming if it were onstage for roughly as long. A decent cast (and a doubtlessly promising director) were thrown at a lousy script.

The premise of a clever conservative man wittily making comment on the misdirected energies of a few non-profit organizations might have been interesting in theory, but Morgan hasn’t spent enough time embracing the opinions he’s trying to refute to make the premise work. Without a really good working knowledge of the intricacies of groups like the Sierra Club, PETA and so on, he’s not doing a terribly good job of criticizing them. It comes off like a cheap, ignorant political cartoon. Honestly, even someone like Sarah Palin could’ve written something marginally more sophisticated. The first principles of certain non-profits ARE worthy of thoughtful, witty criticism, but Morgan fails to do so in a coherently articulate manner.  It’s a solid cast. The talent here could’ve been better served with a better script.

 

White Porcelain by Jackie Benka

This one reminded me of the 1993 film Twenty Bucks . . . a series of short stories that follow the life of a single twenty dollar bill. Benka’s short is a series of even shorter shorts centered around a single white coffee mug. (The big narrative difference here is that it’s not necessarily the same white coffee mug.) I like the idea—there are some short subject dialogues that work really remarkably well as really, really brief, little encounters. Devoting even the length of an entire short to them seems a little indulgent. Keeping them concise and connecting them all together via a single prop is a clever, little idea.

The first micro short featured Sarah Lambrecht as a woman confronted by Christopher Marius in the role of an intelligent animal that has entered her home. There’s a predictable Shyamalan-like twist at the end, but it’s such a tantalizingly brief little theatrical encounter that it lives onstage exactly as long as it needs to. Sharp work by Benka realizing exactly how long this one needed to be.

The second short was equally clever, but in an entirely different way. Jessi Miller (in one of two brief and notable appearances on the fest) plays a seemingly vacuous prostitute talking to a grizzled older guy (Greg Ryan.) The tables turn. She knows the gay son he’s disowned. She’s confronting him on it. She turns out to be a lot more intelligent than he is. She has much more common sense. Director Josh B. Bryan had kind of an interesting challenge here and he did a pretty good job with it.

The final bit in the trio reminded me of Matt Baglio’s book The Rite. I don’t know if Benka’s familiar with the modern true-to-life training being given in exorcism at the Vatican. Evidently a statistically significant portion of various Christian nations, our own included, still believe in demonic possession. The problem is that most people practicing in the priesthood don’t actually know how to handle people who some think may be afflicted with demonic possession. So there’s been a run on exorcists (Speaking from personal experience, Baglio’s book is a truly bizarre read for an agnostic—just weird.)

Anyway . . . the short features Alex Vanabel as a young priest who has NOT been trained by an exorcist. A strikingly beautiful, young woman  (Dayna Schmidt) comes to him suffering from a demonic possession. It’s a comic conflict between the father, the demon and the father’s desire for the woman. Kind of a fun little juggling act.

 

Puppy Love by Emily Craig

The final short to open on the festival was a bit written by Emily Craig. Evidently based on a true story, it’s a dialogue between two women at the vet. A pug has been taken it because it swallowed something it shouldn’t’ve. Brianna Brouchoff and Michelle White star in a bit directed by Samantha Paige. Craig has some clever little bits of dialogue in here. The short ends in a pretty solid punch line. It’s a quick joke, but Craig peppers it with some genuinely witty bits of comic dialogue. A fun addition to the festival.

Carte Blanche Artistic Director  Jimmy Dragolovich originally billed this as the first annual New Plays Festival. It sounds like he enjoyed putting this fest enough that he wants to do it again some time in December or January. This particular set of plays looks promising enough for another series. This was a great deal of fun. I’d like to see a return to it . . . somewhere around New Year’s 2011/2012 . . .

 

Carte Blanche Productions’ next show is George Tabori’s farce Mein Kampf, which runs September 23rd – October 9th.

 

The newly-formed Fresh Page Productions will feature the next set of shorts to appear on the stage of Carte Blanche Studio Theatre. A 100-Year Portrait of Tennessee Williams runs September 2nd-11th. It’s a program of shorts featuring two world-premiere shorts by Tennessee Williams—evidently the man was so prolific that they’re still finding his “lost” works. The two shorts debuting on this program were first published only a few months ago.

Tomorrow: A podcast interview with Kyle Queenan and Joshua Devitt of Fresh Page.  

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