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Ten 10 Minute Plays -09/26/1998

“Duet for Bear and Dog,” by Sybil Rosen, “Off the Rack,” by Robert D. Kemnitz and Jennifer McMaster, “Louis and Dave,” by Norm Foster, “Healthy Primates,” by Rita Marie Nibasa, “Finger Food,” by Nina Shengold, “Life Happens,” by Ellen Bean Larabee, “A Bowl of Soup,” by Eric Lane, “Courting Prometheus,” by Charles Forbes, “Andre’s Mother,” by Terrence McNally, “Catastrophe,” by Samuel Beckett. Cast: Mindy Reed, Matthew Harshbarger, Dori Phelps, Joe Hodge, Janice Rothbaum, Kate Stirling, Tamera McDaniel, Jared C. Beckley, Bryan Mathis Jr., John Schumacher, Ellen Bean Larabee, Buck Zachery, Amy Vokac, Marlana Hope Klenke, Nicole Adair Patton, Joanne Capes, Andrew Larabee, Charles R. Schoenherr, Joel Levi Singerman, Matt Johnston, Susan D. Fortenberry, William L. Kephart, Joseph Kilgore, Zhenesse Heinemann, Nicholas Koch, Bryan Hayward, Erin Meeker, Sarah Tucker. Directors: Mark Alan Hudson, Megan Alban, George Dakis, Rita Marie Nibasa, Tessa Besina Auza, Ellen Bean Larabee, John Eby, Aaron Matthew Polk, Betsy Capes, Sean Aquino.

Parkland College Theatre, 2400 West Bradley Avenue, Champaign.
Box office: 351-2528.
Website: http://www.parkland.cc.il.us/theatre


How much can you say in ten minutes?

A lot, apparently, if you’re a playwright. For everyone from Samuel Beckett of “Waiting for Godot” fame to multi-Tony winner Terrence McNally to local scribe Rita Marie Nibasa, ten-minute plays are a legitimate forum.

Always short, sometimes mysterious, usually entertaining, these mini-plays are also a good choice for a theater training program like the one at Parkland College. Directors and actors alike get a chance to grow and learn, as well as show what they can do, without the pressure of a three-hour play.

Parkland enjoyed a successful run with ten 10-minute plays last year, so it’s no surprise they’re trying another ten on for size to open their fall season.

Under the overall artistic direction of Randi Jennifer Collins Hard, this program runs the gamut from romantic comedy to performance art, from thoughtful drama to murky existentialism.

Strongest among the entries are two of the lightest pieces.
Norm Foster’s “Louis and Dave” involves two long-time friends who go trolling for babes and discover something unexpected about cultural stereotypes. As directed by George Dakis, “Louis and Dave” features charming, assured performances from Parkland freshman Jared C. Beckley and U of I freshman Bryan Mathis, Jr., who share terrific timing and excellent stage presence. It’s clear they’ve worked hard to make their characters fresh, natural, and funny.

The only problem with “Louis and Dave” as staged is gloomy lighting that obscures rather than enlightens. David G. Dillman’s lighting design is uneven throughout, but it’s a shame it mars a winner like this one.

Also well-staged and well-performed is “Courting Prometheus,” a romantic comedy written by Charles Forbes and directed by Aaron Matthew Polk. As two cubicle-mates who may or may not take a chance on love, Susan D. Fortenberry and William L. Kephart keep up the pace, interact well, and make “Prometheus” a little wacky and a lot endearing. Costumes, light and the cubicle set are all just right.

Among the more serious pieces, Eric Lane’s “A Bowl of Soup” stands out.

Skillfully directed by John Eby, this simple story of brothers in pain is fully realized and sensitively drawn. Charles R. Schoenherr deserves loads of credit for successfully handling what amounts to a ten-minute monologue, and Joel Levi Singerman does powerful work with a mostly silent character. Both actors get special mention for maintaining their focus and concentration in the face of a squawking baby down in front who seriously interfered with the pensive tone of the play on opening night. [Note to theater-goers -- do us all a favor and leave the tots at home.]

Visually, Sybil Rosen’s “Duet for Bear and Dog” and Terrence McNally’s “Andre’s Mother” are striking, and Ellen Bean Larabee’s rueful “Life Happens” moves well.

“Duet” gets a nice performance from Dori Phelps as a spunky bear, while “Life” showcases the effervescent Andrew Larrabee, son of
playwright/director Ellen. In the title role, Janice Rothbaum invests “Andre’s Mother” with heart and emotion.

As a whole, the program’s musical segues are sharp and engaging, but lighting and costumes need a bit of tweaking. The technical lapses show most in “Off the Rack,” about a woman who is too attached to her wardrobe. Both characters’ costumes lack verisimilitude, and there aren’t enough racks or enough clothes for the jam-packed fashion nightmare the script requires.

Pace is also sluggish in general, with several plays lagging longer than ten minutes just based on pauses and cue pickups. This creates an up-and-down feel, as you’re ready for one to end so that you can get on to the next.

Still, these “Ten 10-Minute Plays” represent an interesting mix and a compelling theatrical experience.

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