Short Attention Span Theatre, the Garfield Center’s annual festival of ten-minute plays, is back – and if you need a few good laughs, this ought to be on your to-do list for the next couple of weekends.
The format, as always, is eight short plays by various hands – this year, all of them are by authors with local connections — a great testimony to the talent pool in our arts community. The emphasis is on comedy, covering a range from outright slapstick to subtler satiric pieces. As the festival’s unofficial slogan has it, if you don’t like what’s happening at any point, just wait a few minutes and something different will come along.
The first offering is Steven Arnold’s “Spirits,” directed by Sarah Crump. Arnold was the former executive director at Church Hill Theatre. The play begins on Halloween, when a young man named Alan, wearing a Superman costume, walks into a bar called “Spirits,” where all the customers are in costume, and orders a drink. His girlfriend, dressed as Wonder Woman, follows him and a loud argument ensues before she stomps out. Poor Superman is left to commiserate with the bartender and one of the bar’s patrons. Imagine his surprise when he finds out the spirits in the bar are real spirits! This one is perhaps the most philosophical of the plays, a humorous look at issues of life and death and the decisions we all face at critical moments. Brad Chaires is well cast as Alan, and Mark Weining, playing a patron who died in the 1800s, is an effective foil to his angst. Cameos by Jacob Marley (Robert Note) and Clytemnestra (Jennifer Kafka Smith) add to the unworldly aura.
Adrienne Dawes’ “How to Talk to a Girl Wearing Headphones” is a slice of modern life set in a coffee shop, directed by Bryan Betley. The plot consists of two young men trying to get the attention of the title character. Betley, Kirby Powell and Georgia Rickloff play the three characters, and they do a nice job of capturing the scene – which one could readily picture taking place in one of the local cafes.
“Singing in the Shower” is a brisk absurdist piece written by Howard Mesick and directed by Jim Landskroener. David (Ian Ellison) and Pierre (Weining) are roommates; the plot crisis erupts almost immediately when Pierre tells David he intends to stay in the shower so he can keep singing. Of course, David needs to take a shower before work, but none of his arguments to get Pierre out of the stall has any effect – Pierre has brought along food and wine, and has rigged a lock so David can’t get in. Playwright Messick, who is also one of the area’s most versatile actors, brings a fertile comic invention to the situation, and Weining’s faux French accent and Ellison’s growing frustration ratchet up the humor. As a bonus, Weining has a fine singing voice, even with the comic accent.
George Smart’s “The Philosophy of Dogs,” directed by Diane Landskroener, is another gem. Dan Guidice and Chaires, wearing floppy ears and tails, play two dogs discussing the great issues of their lives – whether to chase a nearby rabbit, what it really means to be a dog, why they let humans have control of their lives. Guidice and Chaires do a great job of acting, giving a genuinely amusing physical rendition of their characters – twitching legs as they sleep, and panting with excitement when the rabbit appears.
Mark Sullivan, one of the co-producers of SAST, wrote and directed “And That’s How I Met Your Mother,” in which a strange man (Weining) enters a train compartment occupied by a woman (Jen Friedman) and asks her to pretend they’ve been together the entire trip. The reason for the request becomes clear when a policeman (Guidice) enters the car searching for a fugitive – obviously Weining’s character. The interplay among the three as the interrogation continues is hilarious – Friedman is especially good – as Sullivan’s plot takes one improbable twist after another. Watch carefully at the end for the final comic twist – it could slip past you.
Hester Sachse directed “Guru of the Alps,” written by Keith Thompson, another local playwright. The play starts with a mountain climber (Powell) reaching an alpine peak to find a guru (Zachary Ryan) whose advice he seeks. But nothing turns out as expected – the guru’s wisdom is far from satisfactory, and the situation deteriorates to the point where the characters call on the director (Kafka Smith), playwright and stage hand (both played by Guidice) to unravel their plot and provide some kind of ending. The conclusion deploys one theatrical in-joke after another in rapid sequence – kudos to Guidice for keeping up the frantic pace of physical gags his role requires.
Thompson directed “Somewhere Tonight, The Washington Senators’ Last Game Plays On,” by Dwayne Yancey. Jim Landskroener plays a baseball fan who’s been arrested for breaking and entering by a local cop, played by Paul Cambardella. The fan unfolds his story, revealing how the legacy of the woeful Senators last game – which was interrupted in the 9th inning by fans rushing the field to grab souvenirs – lingers on. It’s a clever bit of historical whimsy, and Landskroener does his usual fine job of bringing the character to life.
The evening concludes with “The Maltese Walter,” written by John Minigan and directed by Diane Landskroener. Jim Landskroener returns as the title character, who’s come to a psychiatrist (Chaires) for help with his “super power” — the ability to turn every situation into a film noir scene. Walter’s fiancée, Vera (Melissa McGlynn) has threatened to cancel their marriage unless he abandons his power – as she explains, she’s a pure and simple girl who finds his dark fantasies disturbing. Landskroener switches periodically between the troubled patient and a wise-guy private eye commenting on the other characters. The combination of three strong actors and a witty script makes this one a good conclusion to the evening’s entertainment.
Playgoers who arrive early can enjoy a bonus presentation of one-minute plays in the lobby. Directed by Tia Glomb, the “Hey, Wait a Minute!” festival brings to the stage a violin lesson in an unexpected context, a lecture on strange prehistoric creatures, a woman mourning a dead cat, a commercial for a painkiller, an encounter in a shoe store and a look at an unexpected dimension of a pirate’s life. All but one of the pieces are by local playwrights, including Sullivan, Mesick, Yancey and Glomb herself. The cast members are Chaires, Ellison, Audrey Betley, Zac Ryan, Juanita Wieczoreck, and Severin Schutt.
As always, this year’s SAST offers something for every taste, and every theater-goer will find some offerings more to their taste than others. My particular favorites this year were “Singing in the Shower,” “The Philosophy of Dogs” and “The Last Washington Senators’ Game,” along with “Rosa’s Eulogy” from the one-minute plays, but others may be more to your taste. A couple of the selections ran longer than the premise seemed to justify – that’s the playwright’s fault, not the actors’. In fact, except for a couple of actors who still hadn’t gotten their lines down, the acting was consistently strong. This is a show you don’t want to miss!
SAST runs for two more weeks, through July 9, with shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays, early birds can catch the one-minute plays at 7 and 7:20 p.m. in the lobby. Tickets are $15 general admission and $5 for students. Call 410-810-2060 or visit the theater website for reservations or for more information.
Photos by Jane Jewell.