Wednesday, June 06, 2012

THEATER: "No Second Acts" (A & B)

Democracy's a lovely thing -- everybody ought to have their voice heard -- but it's dangerous, too. After all, popularity, volume, and ideas aren't always enough to string together a coherent thought (as many a Republican candidate discovered this year), let alone to fill out a short one-act, as some of the contributors to No Second Acts: A Collection of Short American Lives are surely now aware of. Each of the two "bills" (A and B) features five playwrights and three directors and an abundance of energy, and while it's wholly remarkable how little common ground there is between them, that common ground is, unfortunately, the rawness of these productions.

The standouts, then, are those shows that come in with a fully developed voice, or an easy-to-convey theme. Jeffrey Lewonczyk's "Shit the Future Says" imagines a world in which Internet memes have replaced politics; our country, led by President Cat (Annie-Sage Whitehurst), goes to war with an angry troll named David (Marc Landers). It's a pop-culture battle, as the heroic Dramatic Chipmunk (Leah Carrell) and Wolverine-like Honey Badger (Timothy Reynolds) face off against Charlie Bit My Finger (Kitty Lindsay) and Pedobear (Cara Moretto), all to save the world from the embittered former YouTube sensation (David After Dentist). South Park may have gotten there first ("Canada On Strike"), but under Pete Boisvert's playful direction, the live version's an enjoyable treat. 

Likewise, while the philosophy in Eric Bland's "Tsipiras in Athens" may have gone somewhat over my head, Michael Criscuolo's steady direction does a fine job in charting this all-too-human discourse; the same can be said for the way Hope Cartelli casually handles the clever banter in James Comtois's "Moving Forward," in which two former lovers (the past) chat awkwardly while stuck in line waiting to vote (the future). There's also Gyda Arber's "Votes for Women! A Stage Play for Grades 3-8," which is, remarkably and unironically, exactly what it purports to be, complete with "Applause" cue-cards and light audience interaction, and August Schulenburg's "All Good Ending," which, as the title implies, salvages much of a tediously performed history play by throwing in a The Shipment-like twist.

More muddled or rushed, then, are plays like Stephanie Swirsky's "Quorum of Friends," in which a college girl settles important issues -- like how to respond to a booty-text -- by having her friends vote, and Justin Maxwell's "I'm in Al-Qaeda," which subverts expectations by having Man (Ryan Shams) continually shock his airline seatmate (Kari Swenson Riely) with his confessions of being a CIA-kidnapped goat-herder turned Al Qaeda member. The premises of both are fine, but the brevity of each makes the plotting seem flimsy and the conclusions unsupported, and neither rises above its own jokes. This applies, too, to Alexis Sottile's "Occupy Poofy," though its inability to make a statement might be the statement . . . it's so silly and ridiculous -- intentionally so, what with the dance montages or soap-opera revelations -- that it has to be intentional . . . but what's the intent? 

As for Crystal Skillman's "Cheer," the idea of two teachers finding love and a way forward in the midst of student protests is a fine one; I just wish it was clearer what they were fighting for. (I suspect I may have missed something here, though there's definitely a vagueness that may be unnecessary.) Finally, there's Ian W. Hill's "The States," which has a lot of blood, abuse, and pain, and is set in some sort of war-ridden world in which sirens blare and lights flicker under the stress of intermittent bombing. The title implies that it's an allegory, perhaps about the ways in which the abuses of our strong country against the weak and innocent will come back to haunt us . . . but it's ill-defined and difficult to watch. But hey, as the theater festival promises, such is democracy, and who can argue with such diverse and ever-evolving results? 

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