10 x 10, #12: The ArtsCenter’s Festive Annual Short Play Extravaganza

For the 12th year running, the Carrboro ArtsCenter has produced and is presenting the high-energy theatrical event, 10 x 10 in the Triangle. Once again, it offers fast-paced fun well laced with clever observation and sharp insights. I look forward to this show all year, and so do many others: be early if you want tickets to the two remaining weekends (July 11-4 and 18-21). The Playwrights Gala will be held at 6:30 pm, before the show, on July 13.

10x10_in_the_triangle_logo_2.2The brainchild of Lynden Harris, 10 x 10 is currently led by Jeri Lynn Schulke, the artistic director of ArtsCenter Stage. Schulke puts together a team of readers, who spend January to May choosing among the new 10-minute scripts that pour in from around the world. This year there were 750 submissions for the 10 slots. Then 10 directors and 10 actors are chosen (sometimes, as Mark Filiaci does this year, one person fills both roles–in different plays). The team gets a complement of tech people, but sets and props are minimal, and are changed out by the actors in the very brief interludes between the plays. The presto-chango aspect is one of the things that makes 10 x 10 such a fun evening at the theatre.

I found this year’s first half very strong–full of surprises and believable strangeness. The 10-minute form lends itself to situations where something can occur completely in a brief series of actions and interactions, but playwrights are very clever about pushing the edges of time and space. In the opener, My Name is Yin, by Tom Swift, smoothly directed by Ian Bowater, Mark Filiaci gives a wonderful turn as a journalist whose big story, picked up by AP, is about an “installation” in which the artist filled dozens of pairs of shoes with butter. In the play, he and his typewriter sit off to the side, interjecting information and lament into the action, which involves an expat American Brown Bear, a hiker enlightened by the art; her bewildered husband and a raving right-wing government functionary. It’s a sizzling little skewer of commentary on making, seeing and being understood.

will/did/is, by Patrick Gabridge, directed by Josh Benjamin, comes next, and features Amanda Scherle and Alphonse Nicholson as time-travellers looking for their future on the Boston subway. Wearing conical aluminum foil hats. It’s a sad, smart, hopeful little play, and seeing Nicholson in that hat, above his little Malcolm X goatee, just made my night. Nicholson is extremely versatile: he’s at least as good as the peculiar super-hero of The 5564 to Toronto, very well directed by Lori Mahl, who gets such good interaction from the characters that you really care for them within the first moments. In Karen JP Howes’ story  that closes the first half of the evening, Nicholson’s character saves a young woman (Mary Forester) from certain death…but the moral seems to be, you can’t save everyone. [UPDATED 7/9/13]

And you can’t make everyone happy. The night’s most affecting work, directed by Jerry Sipp, is David MacGregor’s New Year’s Eve, featuring LaKeisha Coffey as a nursing home worker and Owen Daly as a very cranky old man. Both actors do lovely work here, in a story taken straight from life.

Another theme seems to be that kindness and aid come at unexpected times and ways. Amanda Scherle and Brett Stafford, scraping up roadkill for the highway department perform an almost accidental kindness in Durham writer Mora Harris’s What you Don’t Know, and director Gregor McElvogue gives us a very prickly kindness in Carol Mullen’s Zero Mile Mark. Actors Coffey, Forester and Scherle do fine work as two women attempting a strenuous wilderness hike, and their demanding guide.

Mark Filiaci appears again, with Bonnie Roe, in the acerbic A Gun on the Table, by Margy Ragsdale. Directed at just the right tempo, with just enough exaggeration, by Chris Chiron, it plays with the idea of potential in marriage and drama. Fortunately, this is a short play, without a third act, so the gun does not go off.

The three remaining plays struck me as heavy-handed.  Although the directors and actors did their best to infuse them with style and wit, the scripts seemed mired a TV mentality out of kilter with the super fresh theatricality of the rest of this year’s 10 x 10.

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