Thursday, May 31, 2007

PLAY: "Wonderland: One-Act Festival"

Wonderland is like one of those traveling carnivals: it's disorganized, it's creaky--the presentation is small in scale and low in budget--BUT . . . it's a thrilling chance to get outside the everyday. The very lack of polish is enticing, and the whole project is an opportunity to catch some new stars in an American Idol-like competition, where judges and audiences determine which of the sixty shows in the "Roller Coaster" round make it through to the twenty-show "Ferris Wheel," from there to the ten-show "Merry-Go-Round" and then the final, three-show "Free Fall."

I can only speak to the events of May 29th's "8:00" performance (delayed until 9:00), but the wait was certainly worth it. Like amusement parks themselves, the wait sometimes has to be worth it, and the mingling crowds of directors, actors, stagehands, and audiences made for some interesting pre-show fun. I also have to admit knowing one of the directors, Whitney Aronson, a classmate of mine in college. But set that aside: I write without bias and the four miniature plays were all entertaining in their own ways, each with a wide range of style.

For instance, Aronson's opening number, The Piazza (which has moved on to the "Ferris Wheel"), was a highly linguistic comedy by Laura Emack that revolved around a man's overblown descriptions and fantasies for his home. Whereas the other three shows all took place in a single scene, this one was filled with transitions (hindered slightly by a paucity of technical rehearsals) but the ambition of the lighting (a visit to a neighbor uses a single overhead light to project a flickering dankness) shone through.

In an entirely different vein was Like Batman (another "Ferris Wheel" contender), a show written and directed (and starring, due to sickness) Bennett Windheim. Structured like a short story, the play opened with the parents addressing the audience directly, to explain how their son had fallen from the roof, but then opens up into a more dramatic lead-up to the fall. Windheim's use of contrast between the poetic description of a plummeting cape and the everyday language of a domestic dispute served him well, but the viewpoints of two neighbors (a Jew and an Italian) ratcheted up the cliche a little too much.

The third show, Eulogy, was the weakest of the bunch: written, directed, and starring Alexis DeLaRosa, the work seemed very personal and, as a result, leaked energy all over the place. But even given the wild gesticulations, the accentuated stomping, and the repetitive blocking, the show had charm, especially with lines like "There are no superheroes--there's just one big supervillain, and that's time."

Of course, if it's lines you want, the dissing contest of Arthur Alleyne's In A Min had the audience cracking up as Jared Robinson and Hannah Davis went way over the top with some of the funniest, dirtiest laughs around. Some of the lines were certainly derivative ("Yeah, most people think I'm gay. [beat] Until I fuck 'em.") and others were straight off the street ("He's pissing sitting down he's so whipped") but the acting sustained the energy, as did Aronson's direction, which made a nice running gag out of an otherwise strained bowel movement.

I'll be heading back to see what makes it to the "Free Fall" round, but the best of the rest will be up before then (6/5 through 6/7) and your vote might help crown a winner. Just because the presentation's hokey doesn't mean the thrills aren't there; see what off-off-Broadway's brewing.

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