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Tuesday, 08 April 2014 17:53

38th Humana Festival of New American Plays: 'Ten-Minute Plays'

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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Julia Bynum and Jason Huff in "Winter Games"
Julia Bynum and Jason Huff in "Winter Games" / Tom Legoff

It may be trite to say that big things come in small packages, but as a description of this short (45 minute) trio of one-acts, it's also completely true.

The program opened with Rachel Bonds's charming slice of life vignette "Winter Games," directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. On an early winter morning in a small Pennsylvania town, bakery employee Mary (Julia Bynum) is smoking out back, waiting for the morning rush of customers. She's been up all night watching the winter Olympics and is grumpy as hell. She's joined by fellow employee Jamie (Jason Huff). He's well rested and a compulsive optimist. She seems to be just the opposite. But as they talk about the games and the feral cats that hang around the bakery, they soon find that they're not as different as Mary might have thought.

Will they become friends? Lovers? Who knows? The important thing is that they make a connection and that, in a ten-minute play, is enough. Ms. Bynum and Mr. Huff were utterly credible and comfortable in their characters and Ms. Yousefzadeh's minimalist direction served the piece well.

Next was Jason Gray Platt's one-actor play, "Some Prepared Remarks (A History in Speech)," directed by Les Waters. Bruce McKenzie is the protagonist, who takes us through his life—from an awkward child giving a report in front of class to an elderly man delivering a eulogy at his wife's funeral—using notes on pieces of paper. Brightly colored construction paper at the beginning, then index cards and small notes until, at the end, his life lies scattered in front of him. Like paper, Mr. Platt seems to be saying, our lives are fragile and easily swept away.

Mr. McKenzie's performance was a masterpiece of understatement, beautifully illuminating this often funny and heartbreakingly real script. His Parkinson's tremors at the end were, perhaps, a bit overdone, but by then he had so thoroughly inhabited this character that it hardly mattered.

The set concluded with Gregory Hischak's absurdly surreal "Poor Shem," in which three office workers—Kendel "a dominant male" (Andrew Garman), Kaitlin "a woman of easily diluted passions" (Jackie Chung), and Kyle "a less-dominant male" (Matthew Stadelmann)—discover that the paper jam in their copy machine contains not just 8-1/2 by 11 sheets but also (preposterously) the titular Shem. What should they do? Call the repairman? Call a priest? Hit "reset"? The only thing they all agree on is that it would be a bad idea to hit "print" again.

"Poor Shem" started out as a purely spoken word piece and I can see how its silly premise might work better as a radio play. Nevertheless this trio of actors and director Meredith McDonough had great fun with it, delivering exactly the quota of laughs the audience needed after the emotional depths of Mr. Platt's script.

I've been coming to Humana for four years now, but this was my first opportunity to catch the ten-minute play program. If this one was typical, I have apparently missed some good stuff.

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