It is always a pleasure to unearth talented theatre artists. Emerging Artists' EATFest presented seven new plays, of which Series C comprised two: Ted LoRusso's Woman with Coffee, directed by Steven McElroy, and Emily Mitchell's Book Signing, directed by Rasa Allan Kazlas, both of them showcases for talented actors, as well as being fine short plays in their own right.
What is a good short play? It has to have a point, usually sharp, and get to it quickly, then be done. It has to express itself in a theatrical manner, and not be interchangeable with an episode of, say, The Twilight Zone. It should also succeed dramatically, in the close combat of succinctly drawn characters.
Woman with Coffee concerns an aging man (Kurt Kingsley) and his wife (Ellen Reilly). The action of the play is that she serves him coffee, which he hardly recognizes as such and doesn't like. He also has a hard time figuring out the sugar and cream, or even her, for that matter. This portrait of Alzheimer's-like malfunction is heartbreaking because their marriage, while he doesn't really recognize it, is always hovering in the background -- he knows he should know her, but he can't quite connect. Her loyalty to the hope that he will improve is the nub of the argument. The actors made real the wall of incomprehension between them without descending into bathos, the ultimate interpretive sin with this sort of material. The play even brings out some of the brittle humor of the situation.
The longer Book Signing explores a "mid-list" author (Jason O'Connell) on a book tour, doing yet another signing at a chain bookstore. Anyone who has been to such an event will recognize the setting: rows of chairs, stacks of books, the author sitting behind them as behind a defensive wall, the cheese, the toothpicks, the wine, the inane, senile, or starstruck readers there to gawk.
The author shows off his ennui at length, then is exposed to the readers, who break his stereotypes of them. In two examples, the oldster who slept through the reading reveals how he and his now-deceased wife were regulars at previous readings, and that he has saved all the books they bought together, as a sort of shrine to her. A store employee aspires to be a poet, and gives the author a sample for a critique. When he finally deigns to look at it, condescendingly, he has to admit that it shows talent, and he is humbled.
The distinguishing feature of this play was that all the other characters beside the author were played by one actress, Aimee Howard, using a variety of costume pieces as disguises. Howard avoided shtick (a temptation particularly with the senior) and went for the obvious but simple distinguishing characteristics.
This being a festival, the scenery (Lex Liang) was a collection of chairs and tables, the costumes (Melanie Blythe) appeared to be well-coordinated personal items, and the lighting (Ian Grunes) was straightforward, minimal, and often harsh.
All in all, this outing at EATFest boded well for Emerging Artists as a company, both as a performing unit and a place to develop new work.
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Copyright 2004 John Chatterton