Two evenings in Hell's Kitchen

The OOBR One Act Play Festival

Program 1:
``Senna Stories'' by Kat Stoutenborough
``Time It Is,'' written and directed by Lissa Moira
``Sic Gloria Tantric,'' written and directed by Gene Ruffini
``Snipers,'' by Albert Bermel, directed by Melanie White
Impact Theater (closed)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

The four plays that formed the first program of the oobr one-act play festival showcased the wide range of possibilities for the one-act form, with an equally wide range of results. The opening piece, ``Senna Stories,'' was a monologue, in which Kat Stoutenborough was engaging and at times disturbing in her portrayal of Senna, a neurotic young woman who views subways as ``willing and excitable squishers,'' envisions invisible cockroaches crawling up her womb, and posits reality as ``a threadbare overcoat she sometimes leaves at the bus station'' and that she gets back with interesting objects in its pockets -- foreign coins, dried oak leaves. Stoutenborough's imagery is poetic, effective and at times startling. Unfortunately, she too often undercut it by an excess of ``cute,'' of baby talk, and of talking about herself in the third person throughout the piece.

``Time It Is,'' the second piece on the program, was an ambitious if flawed one-act, asking questions about what unexpected commercial success does to a bohemian artist, and whether living in a mice-infested sixth-floor walk-up in Soho is romantic or just plain stubborn (especially when, after all, your boyfriend has his eye on a nice two-bedroom in Chelsea). Lissa Moira was the artist Alizia, and Mike Jankowitz her boyfriend, John. The plot tends toward melodrama, however, as Alizia breaks into sobs over her father's death, her mother's remarriage, her mother's death, and anything there is to cry about. The decision to give up the apartment becomes an opportunity (and excuse) to reminisce, relive, and dredge up the past.

``Time It Is,'' however imperfect, was at least striving towards something and taking emotional risks. ``Sic Gloria Tantric,'' however, should more properly be categorized as not a one-act, but a long ``skit.'' Amusing in premise, its joke was clear in the first few minutes, and it never built. Busy professionals Alex and Louise (Michael Hurley and Diana Morgan) have hired a marriage counselor (Lorna Lable) to counsel them on their way to work. But Sanjit the driver cannot keep still, offers Tantric words of wisdom, and wishes to teach them to love (and have lots of) sex. The final joke: the marriage counselor too needs the sexy Indian man to counsel her in the ways of love.

The evening closed with Albert Bermel's brilliant ``Snipers,'' a gem of a one act that consisted of two monologues. Sniper #1 (Richard Nagel) alternately radiating fear and a mocking attempt at control, confesses to his low body count (zero), and blames everything he could think of before breaking down altogether in unadulterated terror at the fate that he anticipates. He is followed by cool, calm and frighteningly collected Sniper #2 (Jon Cable), who accepts his award for highest body count graciously, weaving a tale of subtle horror, all with a reserved but proud smile. Bermel's text is devastating poetry, and the two actors were equal to its challenge.

Box Scores:
"Senna," "Time It Is"
Writing/Directing/Acting 1
Writing/Directing/Acting 0
Writing/Directing/Acting 2
Set, Costumes, Lighting/Sound 1 Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson

Program 2:
``The Wind in the Willows'' by Kenneth Grahame, adapted and performed by Ian Reed
``Flight'' and ``Woo at the Zoo'' by Joe Lauinger, directed by John D. Rue
``An Average Family Dinner with an Average Joe,'' written and directed by Elena Megaro
``Our Lady of Stone,'' by Vanda, directed by Barbara Kahn
Impact Theater (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Since I produced this one-act play festival, I won't try to write a formal, oobr-style review. Consider this more an appreciation or a report from the front, composed (sometimes under fire) because another writer didn't come through in a pinch.

Including excerpts from a dramatic adaptation of ``The Wind in the Willows'' in an Off-Off-Broadway festival, you must admit, takes some cojones --on the parts of both the presenter and the performer. This is not prime territory for children's stories. But in Ian Reed's hands, the material provided a tremendous opportunity for acting out the various characters of the book and thus showing off his talents as an actor, which are considerable.

The carefully staged ``Flight'' and ``Woo at the Zoo'' tell, respectively, of a chance encounter between a priest (played with appropriate angst by Bart Tangredi) and an obnoxious Jewish kid (obnoxiously played by Jason White) on a possibly doomed airline flight, in the course of which the kid causes a turnaround in the priest's world view; and of a final date between a girl (played with polish by Erin Eagar) and a young man (Jason White) who is eventually replaced by an endearing gorilla (Bart Tangredi). No, I won't explain....

``An Average Family Dinner with an Average Joe'' is, it is true, a skit and suffers from the deficiencies of that genre as outlined by Sarah Stevenson in her review of Program #1. It has its cute moments, though, as Ellen (Shan Bryant) brings home Joe (PJ Gallagher) to dinner with doofus Mom (Stacey Vargo), Neanderthal Dad (Gregg Mulpagano), and wretched little sister Nicole (Maya Webb). Of course (a point soon picked up by the audience), Joe is the main course. The overall level of writing and performance here lagged that of the other pieces.

``Our Lady of Stone'' tells of the return of former novitiate Cath Kyle (briskly played by Noelle Potvin) to visit Sister Dominic (played with convincing anguish by Carol Mennie), with whom she once had a brief affair. It is clear that Sister Dominic is going round the bend obsessing about the fling, while unable until the end to ask Cath to renew the relationship. The story is saved from the brink of sentiment by the irony that, if only she had been asked sooner, Cath might have accepted; but Cath has meanwhile accepted an offer of marriage. And while Sister Dominic has been drowning her memories in denial and the repeated playing of scratchy religious music, she has also been getting ready to give up her vows as a nun.

All in all, both evenings of the oobr One-Act Play Festival (vol. 1, no. 1) showed a wide and commendable spread of talent in intimate quarters and proved a satisfying venture for me and, I think, most of the participants. I'm looking forward to vol. 1 no. 2, probably in late January of 1997.

Copyright 1996 John Chatterton

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