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One Act Play Festival proves fun for theatergoer

By Christopher K. Conner

Manhattan Arts Center’s One Act Play Festival ran Friday and Saturday night. The third annual Festival presented three one-act plays with the performance hall set up in a thrust configuration.

The first play, written by American playwright John J Wooten was “The Role of Della.” Elizabeth, portrayed by Kristina Gent is a talented, if a bit uncertain, actress trying out for the lead role of a play. Arriving at the tryouts a bit early, she catches Emma (Katie Sigman) perusing the headshots of other actresses.

The naive and apologetic Elizabeth fears that she has gotten her tryout off to a bad start and Emma’s attitude and sarcasm seem to support her fears. Emma seems to have something negative to say about everything Elizabeth does or says. On top of that, Emma makes the tryout increasingly more humiliating and bizarre until Elizabeth finally breaks and decides to leave. In a parting shot of spite, Emma says that Elizabeth is perfect for the role, but to expect a confirmation call before 4am, ensuring Elizabeth will wait up for a call that will never come.

“The Role of Della” was humorous and well performed. If I had to criticize anything, I wish I had been more in the dark about Emma’s motives. Judging by the reaction of the audience, there was enough obfuscation for some in attendance. For me, Sigman established pretty well at the start that Emma wasn’t supposed to be reviewing applicants. I might have enjoyed the piece more had I not already suspected what the punchline would be.

Second in the lineup was Nina Shengold’s “No Shoulder.” The play begins as Ruth (Tiffany Dozier) is struggling to stay awake while driving alone in the dark. She seems to nod off but quickly swerves as some obstacle looms in her headlights. Coming to a stop, Ruth is catching her breath when Bobbie (Ashalen Sims) appears at the window.

After nearly running the homeless teen over, Ruth acquiesces to give the girl a ride, since they are going to the same town. After some awkwardness, the two end up talking and find that their lives intersect more than either of them could have known. Comedic interactions between Ruth and Bobbie fade away as they learn more and dust away their presumptions about each other, ending in a heavy and somewhat gloomy climax.

The performance of “No Shoulder” was good and clear. The acting strained against the limits of the setting. Confined to the front seat of a car, both actors (especially Dozier, trapped behind an imaginary steering wheel with need to keep her eyes on the road) had energy that needed somewhere to go.

After an intermission, the final performance of the evening was “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All to You” by Christopher Durang. With Penny Cullers in the title role, Sister Mary is a stereotypical teaching nun. Her not blind but wide-eyed devotion to her faith and uncompromising Catholic mindset become evident as she presents the way things are and answers questions recorded on cards.

Mary proceeds to explain that the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s lack of original sin, not Jesus’ before calling for a drink of water from her seven-year-old student Thomas (Colin Dansel). Mary takes joy in quizzing Thomas about commandments. She also relishes his fine soprano voice and regrets that the Church no longer preserves young boys’ voices as they did with the castrati.

The play continues with Sister Mary answering questions from three by five cards, supposedly collected from the audience. Many times she answered with a disdainful ‘yes’ and moved on without explanation. Other questions elicited an angry eye cast over the audience, looking for the offending questioner. Both provided ample opportunity for comedic effect, and Cullers proved to have good pacing and timing for comedy.

The rest of the cast entered the stage, claiming that the four former students had been called in by Sister Mary to perform a pageant for her presentation. Though Mary did not remember the request, she let the students proceed.

The pageant they presented was flawed in many ways and seemed to mock some of the things it was supposed to revere. The four students had actually been assembled by Diane to humiliate Sister Mary and confront her for the years of torment and lies she dished out to them as they were under her tutelage. Each of the flawed students offends Sister Mary’s sensibilities in turn and blames her for some of their failings.

Cullers proves to be a very good Sister Mary Ignatius. The play is a whole lot of fun, punctuated by a not at all fun climax. I remember being told in college that the evil nun has been overdone. This play may be an illustration of that.

This year’s One Act Festival showed a range of local talent performing some well distributed plays, though I’d never seen any of the three performed on stage before. There is something refreshing about shorter theater. Like short stories, one act plays get right to saying what they have to say. It was a fun evening. I do hope some local playwrights get busy and work up material for next year.

The presentation begins with Sister Mary showing three boards. The first illustrates the Earth, Sun and Moon. The second is heaven, hell and purgatory. And the final board is an image of limbo, where unbaptized babies were said to be sent for 800 years of Catholic history. Now obsolete, Sister Mary points out that babies there before will remain there.

Mary proceeds to explain that the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s lack of original sin, not Jesus’ before calling for a drink of water from her seven-year-old student Thomas (Colin Dansel). Mary takes joy in quizzing Thomas about commandments. She also relishes his fine soprano voice and regrets that the Church no longer preserves young boys’ voices as they did with the castrati.

The play continues with Sister Mary answering questions from three by five cards, supposedly collected from the audience. Many times she answered with a disdainful ‘yes’ and moved on without explanation. Other questions elicited an angry eye cast over the audience, looking for the offending questioner. Both provided ample opportunity for comedic effect, and Cullers proved to have good pacing and timing for comedy.

The rest of the cast entered the stage, claiming that the four former students had been called in by Sister Mary to perform a pageant for her presentation. Though Mary did not remember the request, she let the students proceed.

The pageant they presented was flawed in many ways and seemed to mock some of the things it was supposed to revere. The four students had actually been assembled by Diane to humiliate Sister Mary and confront her for the years of torment and lies she dished out to them as they were under her tutelage. Each of the flawed students offends Sister Mary’s sensibilities in turn and blames her for some of their failings.

Cullers proves to be a very good Sister Mary Ignatius. The play is a whole lot of fun, punctuated by a not at all fun climax. I remember being told in college that the evil nun has been overdone. This play may be an illustration of that.

This year’s One Act Festival showed a range of local talent performing some well distributed plays, though I’d never seen any of the three performed on stage before. There is something refreshing about shorter theater. Like short stories, one-act plays get right to saying what they have to say. It was a fun evening. I do hope some local playwrights get busy and work up material for next year.









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