Review: Chicago One-Minute Play Festival (Victory Gardens)

  
  

OMPF - One Minute Play Festival - Victory Gardens - banner

 

New Festival Showcases Short Works by Local Artists, Sampler-style

 

by Dan Jakes and Oliver Sava

This May 15-16, Victory Gardens premiered Chicago’s first One-Minute Play Festival (OMPF), a benefit event that featured bite-sized works by an eclectic mix of prominent and upcoming local theater artists. Creator and “curator” Dominic D’Andrea originally debuted the series in New York in 2007, where it has since grown to San Francisco and Los Angeles . For its first ever stop in the Midwest, considering the event’s magnitude–50 playwrights, 10 directors, and nearly 60 actors–this year’s showcase demonstrated promising potential for an exciting annual Chicago theater institution.

That is, if it finds a stronger footing. Micro-plays are nothing new, especially in the Windy City, long-time home to the Neo-Futurists’ Too Much Light and Second City; one set the bar for two-minute plays, and the other made one-joke flash bits a sketch trademark. D’Andrea and producer Will Rogers’ OMPF also rides off the larger 10-minute play trend. Their efforts to boil down theater even further, though, prove to be fruitful–sometimes even enlightening. Below is a list of the night’s highlights.

Paper Airplane, Aaron Carter  

     
   The finest piece in the festival. A young boy expresses his anguish over his father’s looming death while tossing folded paper planes across the stage. His ability to speak is limited to the papers’ flight, leaving him choked and frustrated with each audible crash landing. In less than a minute, Carter encapsulates the panic of grief, and animates the cruel handicap children endure to express pain. Those planes approached visual poetry.

Two Vegans, Robert Tenges

     
   A couple engaged in love making–some of it hilariously acrobatic–get their kink on by dirty-talking their favorite (or to cool things off, least favorite: (“raw kale…raw kale!”) foods. At first, it’s funny nonsense. Then, after you uncomfortably internalize your own link between taste/sexual satisfaction, it’s hysterical.

A Play, Kristoffer Diaz

     
   You’re the hero in this monologue. The audience member to your right is the protagonist. Your left, the antagonist. Diaz’s simple, straight-forward instructions don’t feel like a gimmick. His inconclusive end ponders some sophisticated ideas about the broader implications of storytelling, ones that resonate long after the play’s 60 seconds are up.

The Last Walk, Lisa Dillman

     
   Sad pets are an easy go-to for emotional impact…but that doesn’t make using them any less effective. A dog reminisces about the good days with her very recently deceased owner. Confused, she brushes up against his dead body for affection…and if you don’t cry a little at the thought of that, then you’re a monster. Only a few high-pitched “aw’s” were heard in the house during an otherwise hushed fade-to-black.

Inequity, Jake Minton

     
   Penis envy comes early for two little boys (played by full-grown adults, of course) in a school bathroom: One stands proud, pants down and bare-butted at a urinal, while the other sits devastated, hiding his…well, you know. Minton makes a nice little joke about men’s biggest insecurity.

Haiku Fight, Caitlin Montanye Parrish

     
   A couple hashes out an argument by having a refereed 8 Mile-style slam, with Japanese poetry filling in for hip-hop. It’s a simple, wonderfully clever juxtaposition of the writing form’s serenity versus the needling aggravation of a relationship fight.

This Just In, Stephen Louis Grush

     
  Liberal sensibilities about prejudice get turned over on their heads when one easily dismissible stereotype gets paired with one that’s equally unfair, but–for many viewers–may hit a little closer to home. Those might sound like the makings for a didactic issues play. With the right amounts of humor and levity here, they aren’t.

Bag Thief, Laura Jacqmin

     
   A mix-up at an airport luggage carousel leads to suspicion and accusations. Jacqmin doesn’t quite know how to end her play–what she settles for lets the air out of its balloon and betrays her otherwise solid work. Up until the final seconds, though, it’s fun stuff watching two men calmly navigate each other’s logic and contemplate one another’s mind games.

Blackout, Chisa Hutchinson

      
   As the name suggests, Hutchinson’s play takes place with the house and stage lights off. Her monologue discusses nyctophobia (fear of darkness) in friendly, clinical terms. Once she starts in about the ghastly things you could be imagining, it’s hard not to nervously giggle and realize you’re an adult who’s once again–briefly–afraid of the dark.

In Not Our Finest Hour, Andrew Hinderaker

     
   You can spot a gag coming within the first few seconds of this context-free comedy. A line of actors take a swig from a water bottle and pass it on. Anticipation builds; titters slip. The fact that the punch line is exactly what you’d expect compounds the simple humor in this satisfying, straightforward piece.

Wisconsin, Andrew Hinderaker 

     
   Anyone who’s experienced the unique isolation of a rural Midwest winter can attest to the truth and melancholy spoken in this eloquent monologue. A young man describes a blackened hand rising out of the snow. Hinderaker’s vivid image is striking on conflicting levels–it’s unsettling, somber, and in its own way, serene.

Free, Zayd Dohrn

     
   A United States Marine quietly bemoans the chaos of modern war and rejects America’s authoritative façade. His speech is upsetting for all the obvious reasons, and for some less common: notably, the futility of humanitarian efforts and the false hope instilled by the military’s hierarchy.

A Short Story, Emily Schwartz 

     
   A narrator gives up on his own story, much to the protagonist’s chagrin. Schwartz’s non-story leaves the nameless hero waiting and frustrated as the nonchalant storyteller signs off on her would-be adventure. Smart, funny metatheater.

Love Play for Two Chairs, Seth Bockley 

     
   When you think about chairs having sex (though in any other context, why would you?) the word “whimsical” probably doesn’t come to mind. And yet, like an x-rated Fantasia, Bockley and director Jeffrey Stanton achieve just that. Annoyed by the noise of his enchanted furniture getting it on, an apartment owner sets out to end his two chairs’ tryst. His solution is delightfully absurd–the fact that it’s irresistibly adorable makes matters even stranger.

Unsolicited Advice for Next Year’s Fest

Now that the One-Minute Play Festival has taken its first entertaining, successful baby steps in Chicago, here’s what we at we’d would like to see from the show in its future incarnations…

A Greater Assortment of Styles:

Only a few plays in 2011 were noteworthy for really bucking traditional conventions. The message in Gloria Bond Clunie’s Falling about resilience in the face of natural disasters, for instance, wasn’t particularly moving or inspired, but her play stood out from its peers for its striking use of projections and puppetry. That left us with a question: How can the other works of 50 unique artists have looked so homogeneous? Talking animals, inner-monologues, contentless scenes and gripes about public transit bore the brunt of too many shows. No movement pieces? No one-minute musicals? Festival organizers take pride in the lack of dictated thematic guidelines for the playwrights (as they should). Still, there has to be a way to commission a more diverse body of work.

Super-titles:

Many of the short plays benefited from having the names of the shows known; some even took on new light. Dimmed houselights and tiny program font made seeing them impractical–unless you were really straining, you had to do without. An inexpensive or creative way to integrate the show names could further enrich the work.

Clear Intent Behind Curation:

Was there or was there not an intended arc to the evening? We couldn’t tell. Directors took on about 10 plays each, and their pieces were presented together in ten unique “clumps.” The order that clumps were presented in and the plays within them, though, did not have an obvious flow. Perhaps one wasn’t intended–regardless, having one might keep the night as a whole engaging.


The Chicago One-Minute Play Festival is produced as a benefit for Victory Gardens Fresh Squeezed, their alternative programming and audience engagement initiative. With a shared mission, both Fresh Squeezed and the festival aim to represent a wide and diverse range of playwrights, actors, and directors working in the great city of Chicago.

Reviewers: Dan Jakes and Oliver Sava

     
     

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Review: Magpie Project’s “The Happy Family Series”

A Weird and Gifted “Family” Pulls It Together

happy-family-poster

The Magpies Project present:

The Happy Family Series:
Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms

inspired by P.T. Barnum’s “The Happy Family
Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward a.k.a. "The Tamer"
thru December 6th at Viaduct Theatre (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

I hardly knew what to make of the press put out by The Magpies Project over The Happy Family Series: Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms” inspired by P. T. Barnum’s museum piece “The Happy Family.” Living by the creed “There’s a sucker born every minute,” Barnum constructed a fallacious exhibit wherein an assortment of animals, both predators and prey, were forced to live in harmony with each other as a spectacle of example to humankind. As such, The Magpie Project’s own assortment of talented misfits, drawn together from the usual fringe theater suspects, could easily be collected under any random title. Maybe the overwhelming wholesomeness of the holiday season has wormed its way into the company’s artistic direction. Never mind. Any excuse to see these performers is good one.

viaduct Emceeing the madness is H. B. Ward, aka “The Tamer,” who delivers the funniest, most intelligent opening comic monologue I’ve witnessed in years. He’s a man in complete control of the audience—without need of whips and little need of chairs! Most of the rest of the collection, curated by Shawn Reddy, follows in this comic and quirky vein. Whether any of it refers to family hardly matters, but one will find some startling depth along with the laughs.

The first weekend run in particular saw a short memoir simply read aloud by writer and critic Brian Nemtusak. It was the sort of thing one might hear on Public Radio’s This American Life, only with greater psychological depth, quiet power, and less desperate need to please the audience. It came closest to all the evening’s exhibits in articulating the antagonisms between three generations of men and what each generation tried to do to compensate for them. Ira Glass, eat your heart out.

Other sketches executed by Ian Belknap and Edward Thomas-Herrera, such as the subtext of corporate meetings and the dramatic, glamorous imaginings of a lone gay child, were more conventionally funny, but no less entertaining for being so. Far more far out performances were dealt by the musical stylings of Jenny Magnus of Curious Theatre and Chris Schoen of Theatre Oobleck.  I kept thinking Jenny was coming up with any old excuse to sing her songs under the rubric of “family.”

Stopping by to see The Happy Family Series over the next few weeks will be more than worth your while. Who knows, maybe the oddness of the “exhibits” will strike some familial similarity.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward A.K.A. "The Tamer"

Featuring work by: Martha Bayne, Ian Belknap, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower, Eiren Caffall, Mark Chrisler, Robin Cline, Barrie Cole, Elvisbride Band, Idris Goodwin, David Isaacson, David Kodeski, Jenny Magnus, Brian Nemtusak, Beau O’Reilly, David Pavkovic and Vicki Walden (of DOG), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, Diana Slickman, Edward Thomas-Herrera, and David Wilcox.

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Review: The Alumni Bow

 

New works suggest a promising future.

 

The School of the Art Institute presents:

The Alumni Bow
Three one-acts by Rebecca Beegle, Idris Goodwin and Chris Bower
directed by Stefan Brün and Beau O’Reilly
thru September 27th (tickets: 773-539-7838)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

NoteToMollySmall What a pleasure to be able to review The Alumni Bow, the latest offerings from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA Writing Program, particularly since it doesn’t have much in the way of press to promote itself, other than a few hand-distributed flyers and a blogpost by one of its playwrights, Idris Goodwin. Under the direction of Beau O’Reilly of Curious Theatre and Stefan Brün of Prop Thtr, these simple one-acts show surprising maturity and sophistication, even if some could benefit from the editor’s scalpel.

Honey by Rebecca Beegle, is a one-act monologue of a man under the strain of lost love and lost eroticism, finally losing memory of the woman he has loved so intensively. The man, played by Julian Berke, takes the audience on a tour of the home in which their lovemaking took place, room by room. It becomes apparent that the tour, which most likely began as an act of revenge against his lover, has now transformed into a mournful homage over all he has lost, including the ability to love again. “What is not so important as the sex acts is what led to them . . . a trail of bread crumbs I can’t find again.”

The challenge for O’Reilly’s direction will be in how effective that tour will remain should the audience capacity exceed the space for the tour to take place. As it is, it’s just as interesting to view the crowd as the actor—the one that I was in paraded from room to room with an almost funereal solemnity. Berke’s performance is nuanced, a tribute to an actor for whom this is the first full-fledged role; prior performance experience has been mostly as a rock and blues musician.

The Story Farm is the most intellectual of all these works, a savvy bit of meta-theater, commenting on all things corporate, politically correct, and metaphorical. Between an earnest jobseeker (Arin Mulvaney) and a story research trainer (Jonathan Putman), Idris Goodwin gets to pull out all his jibes at corporate world’s ability to devalue everything, including the power of stories, to their most rudimentary and meaningless frameworks. From there, it is just a hop, skip, and jump to having the utterly ratiocinating story researcher swept up beyond reason by a story Mulvaney’s jobseeker brings in, while she remains blithely uninvolved by her own discovery. The transformation is enjoyable to watch in Putman’s hands, given the intensity he delivers through his character and Mulvaney’s good-natured, cat-loving foil is realistically vacuous.

Goodwin seems to have the most experience of all the young playwrights and, concomitant with his break beat poet background, plays with ideas and themes with greater virtuosity than the others. But of all the other playwrights, Goodwin’s work would most benefit from an editor’s eye in taking off a good 10 to 15 minutes from this play.

Notes to Molly by Chris Bower deals the most devastating realism of all these pieces. Based on his short story by the same name, the play etches an indelible portrait of a dead-end alcoholic couple and the psychological forces that barely keep them hanging on, to themselves and to life. It is an intensely realized work, almost perfectly performed by Kate Teichman and Matt Test.

All three one-acts deal with some aspect of story, but Bower’s work shows most knowingly how story is used by this couple to evoke a past or present which gives each of them more power or discredits the other, yet does nothing to really disrupt or improve their passive-aggressive relationship. Bower shows great maturity in delineating the symbiotic nature of their mutual dysfunctions and leaves us hanging where they hang, in a subjective no-man’s land, with Test’s character desperately trying to get his fellow alcoholic lover’s attention.

Don’t leave these works out in no-man’s land. The Alumni Bow has a very short run and Chicago should get to know its next generation of original work.

Rating: «««