One-act plays a singular success

New and old comedies, dramas meant for casual theater-goers

July 23, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Colonial Players has just completed its One-Act Festival, providing in two weekends what its producer called "a learning lab for aspiring directors."

The combination of nine plays produced by Beth Terranova was called "Fun and Mind Games," consisting of old and new comedies and dramas to please casual theater-goers. Different slates were offered on different evenings: Slate 1 featured six short plays and Slate 2 had three plays, including a 45-minute comedy, Civilization and Its Malcontents.

My schedule limited me to Slate 1, which was designed to stand alone to provide a full entertainment experience.

"One-acts are fun for both actors and audience - not a huge commitment, and lots of variety," said actress Sue Struve.

Slate 1 began with Anton Chekhov's The Dangers of Tobacco, a rambling monologue delivered by an unhappily married Ivan who does his wife's bidding and becomes increasingly unhappy as he describes his daily life. The timelessness of the great 19th century Russian writer's story of Ivan (here played by Joe Thompson and directed by Lia Boyle) elicited a respectable share of laughter from the large Friday evening audience.

Second on the program and clearly in the "mind game" category was Susan Glaspell's 1916 early feminist play, Trifles. Directed by Joan Hamilton, it featured a cast of five: a sheriff and his wife, the county attorney and a neighbor couple who gather at the empty home of a recently jailed woman accused of killing her husband. The men go about their work of finding "real evidence," belittling the women's concerns about the condition of Mrs. Wright's fruit preserves and her quilt stitching.

In nuanced performances Josie Dubois as the sheriff's wife, Mrs. Peters, and Theresa Olson as neighbor Mrs. Hale provide insight into the difficult lives of farm women.

After intermission, the program continued with another monologue, Neil LaBute's Love at Twenty, which debuted in 1997 and seemed light-years away from Chekhov. Here, a 19-year-old woman played by Elizabeth Seaman is a tough though na?ve and vulnerable college student involved with a 45-year-old married professor. The play, with its rapid-fire lines, is well-paced by director Lia Boyle.

Written at the end of World War I as a satirical, anti-war statement, British playwright Louise Bryant's The Game fascinated with its struggle between two women symbolizing Life and Death competing for the destiny of two characters, The Girl and Youth.

Struve played Death with sardonic steely wit as a formidable opponent to Dubois' sensitive portrayal of Life, their bantering charged with underlying emotion. A graceful Carol Anne Drescher played The Girl, who falls in love with a poetic Youth, played by Will Poxon. Director Erik W. Alexis created an appropriately dark, otherworldly aura.

The Colonial Players' Joe Thompson wrote a play describing what happens behind the scenes of theatrical productions, Scene Change. The bright comedy is done entirely in the dark to reveal what life is like for stagehands confined to a shadowy world where they practice their art. Director Stephanie Nevin excelled in what must have been a huge challenge. With biting wit that brought major laughs, the unseen cast featured Ben Carr, Leslie Miller, Shaina Garrison and Janette Cahill.

The evening ended on an uproarious note with St. John's College graduate Gretchen Jacobs' play, Hamlet, Act VI, directed by Scott Nichols. Jacobs found unsuspected comic gold in the melancholy Dane, and director Scott Nichols harvested every karat. Among the skilled cast, the comedy crown belongs to Andrea Elward who played sexy Queen Gertrude. Comedian Sharon Crissinger portrayed a feisty Ophelia, elevating this role to high comedy. Other comic standouts included Robby Rose as Horatio, James P. Durcan as Fortinbras, Jason Vaughan as Hamlet, Joe Thompson as Claudius, Steven Cohen as Laertes and Ben Carr as Polonius.

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