10 x 10 # 14: The Annual Short Play Festival Goes Nova from the ArtsCenter

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I was late to the party on this year’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle–the 14th annual at the Carrboro ArtsCenter–but, WOW! These 10 plays, each 10 minutes long, by 10 authors, performed by 10 actors with 10 directors, add up to a major theatrical event. 10 x 10 has always been fun and intriguing, but this time, as well as comedy, there’s powerful drama from start to finish, much of it dealing with very inconvenient truths. The show repeats tonight and Sunday, and the 23-26.

The 10 plays were chosen from the 550 scripts that were submitted from around the world. They were winnowed out in a process led by ArtsCenter Stage Artistic Director Jeri Lynn Schulke, who produces this complicated festival. All the chosen plays are new to North Carolina, and two received their world premieres on July 10, when the show opened. Yes, more world premieres at the little theater that could, in the Paris of the Piedmont. The list of directors, actors and production designers includes many well-known names in local theatre, as well as some new talent. For more on all the participants, go here.

Racism, murder and corporate madness are the primary topics here, and, even though some of the stories are rich in dark humor, they as a group are only slightly leavened by tales of betrayals, break-ups and a charming meditation on free will and fate. Each of the scripts is so accomplished that none of the stories is uncomfortably fragmentary, and each feels as if time has stretched for it, to allow much more incident and detail than 10 minutes generally allows in life. If the production has a flaw, it is that the transition from play to play is so smooth and fast that there’s not quite time to catch one’s breath between the stories.

Barbette Hunter, Julie Oliver, and the

Barbette Hunter, Julie Oliver, and the “white chicken chili” of Alban’s Garden, in the ArtsCenter’s 14th 10 x 10 in the Triangle. Photo: Adam Graetz.

I was most affected by Alban’s Garden, by Rich Espey, with Barbette Hunter and Julie Oliver, directed by Brook North with cool lucidity;  Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, by Allan Bates, with Page Purgar, Barbette Hunter and Kala Hinnant, directed by Gregor McElvogue with powerful restraint; and the incendiary Stop/Frisk by Rich Rubin, with Alexander Jackson and John Allore, directed by Lormarev Jones with controlled rage. All of these plays involve murders, murders that have already occurred, or that will, or may, occur in the near future, or both. This is tough stuff. Although there’s a hint of possible reconciliation between injured parties in Two Mothers, none offers real hope of healing for our most desperate social malaises. The acting in all three is outstanding, but the delicacy with which Gregor McElvogue controls the timing in Two Mothers–making us wait and puzzle for long stretches–allows Hunter and Purgar to do particularly great work.

Page Purgar, Kala Hinnant and Barbette Hunter in Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, in the ArtsCenter's 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Page Purgar, Kala Hinnant and Barbette Hunter in Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, in the ArtsCenter’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Fred Corlett gives three wonderful performances–as a put-upon long-married husband in the comic Couples Therapy (Meredith Sause, director); as the dignified teller of his journey to death in a Holocaust gas chamber, in As We Knew It (the wrenching lyricism of which is calmly unspooled by director Hope Alexander); and as The Narrator, in the stylishly philosophical The Third Person, directed by Jules Odendahl-James with the same verve she showed in her recent work at Manbites Dog.

Leigha Vilen and Fred Corlett in The Third Person, at 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Leigha Vilen and Fred Corlett in The Third Person, at 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

In the last, Corlett plays opposite Leigha Vilen, who also lights up the biggest surprise of the evening. Jack Karp’s Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (world premiere), cleanly directed, with wit and sass, by Monet Marshall, excoriates the banking business’ subprime slime with a series of set-ups and jokes modeled on silent film’s antic miming. From the first title card to the final “Cut!” this satire is all complete. Vilen plays the Title Card Girl, as well as versions of a young woman who’s got “it” and knows how to use it. Lazarus Simmons is quite wonderful as the poor beggar and the poor fool taken in by the slick banker (John Allure in fake mustache glory). The visual storytelling is fantastic–I don’t want to give away the gags.

See it for yourself, and if you can find it in your wallet, drop something in the cup for the ArtsCenter’s Summer Challenge fundraiser. There’s nothing subprime about the ArtsCenter, but it does need help keeping on keeping on providing a home for high-quality theatre, year after year. Go here for tickets or call 919-929-2787.

Lazurus Simmons and John Allore mime it in Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? at the ArtsCenter's 10 x 10 in the Triangle, 2015 edition. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Lazarus Simmons and John Allore mime it in Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? at the ArtsCenter’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle, 2015 edition. Photo: Adam Graetz.

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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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