KPBS AIRDATE: March 1, 1995
All riiiiight, contestants! This is your final question. What’s five years old; has 29 plays; 120 actors, writers and directors; and lasts for three weeks? You have five seconds….. Remember, it’s 1995. And the word actors is a clue. And there’s a festive atmosphere in the air….
(BUZZ) Yes… the young waitress, uh, actress in the rear? That’s right! It’s the 1995 Actors Festival. Back for the fifth time, and bigger than ever. Featuring a nine-program repertory of short plays, each of which gets two performances at the 160-seat St. Cecilia’s Playhouse. Three weeks this year, expanded from the original two. With participation from just about every major and minor theater in town.
There’s bound to be something for everyone here: drama, farce, comedy, tragedy; from the realistic to the absurd; from solo performances to large ensembles; from first-time writers to long-dead geniuses.
Every night, it’s a different bill. Three or four pieces per night. There’s only one catch. Although there is an artistic director who balances the type of fare presented each evening, there really isn’t any quality control. Acceptance to the festival is on a first-come, first-served basis. What that translates into is some questionable material and variable performances. But no piece is longer than 45 minutes, so if you’re really not liking something, an intermission is coming soon.
The two nights I’ve been there so far have been predictably entertaining — and inconsistent. Program II began with “Real to Reel,” a nasty, misogynistic little piece by Frank Gilroy, where an illustrious, not-so-young female film critic propositions a handsome young actor/director, with a promise of a good review the next day. It’s an ugly, game-playing business, and neither Karalee Austin nor Darrin Long was believable in their role.
Next up was “Contemplating the Bag,” written, presented and performed by Susan Hammons. In retrospect, it reminds me very much of Program III’s “Invisible,” written, presented and performed by DeAnna Driscoll-Cherry. Both are confessional pieces that confront a history of child abuse. Both are powerful and very well acted.
A new piece, written by a first-time playwright, ex-Marine Leonard Mendez, has a lot of promise; he writes some believable boys-will-be-boys dialogue. Mendez obviously knows his subject — Marines, and their experience in the Gulf War — but he doesn’t always know how to convey it in a theatrical way.
Both these evenings end on a darkly humorous note, featuring murderous duos. In Matthew Reidy’s “Oh Feel Ya” (that’s three words), a young couple gets into all sorts of mischief just to make a buck. She turns tricks, and the latest is a guy whose fantasy includes being Hamlet to a slightly crazed Ophelia. Both the writing and acting here are hilarious, with John Steed orgasmically spouting soliloquies from the Bard, while Margaret Miller feigns insanity by spewing nonsequiturs like “Pizza! Pizza!” and “I am Ophelia.. coo coo coo choo.” But then Matthew Reidy makes things careen suddenly downhill (both on the page and the stage), with an annoyingly gory killing and puerile punchline. But it was great up to then.
At least, in Harold Pinter’s classic one-act, “The Dumb Waiter,” we don’t get to see the blood and guts. But we do get to see two sublimely absurd characters in incredibly absurd dialogue and circumstances. Here, Ron Choularton sparkles, and Bobby Larson provides a humorously menacing killer-counterpart.
Not everything is to my taste. But there should be something at the Festival for every theatrical palate. It’s fun. It’s varied. It’s a different kind of night out. Don’t miss it.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.