Drama should be compressed. That’s why short plays – 10-minute or 15-minute plays – have such potential. But it’s a very challenging form, and most short plays fail. The playwright needs to make us care quickly, and a lot depends on the characterization being specific.
T. Schreiber Theatre, Off-off-Broadway, has presented ten short plays in its program Schreiber Shorts 2017. The evening is a success. Most of the scripts are quite good. The directions is uniformly adroit, and the acting throughout is first-rate.
The best play of the evening, a great example of a successful short play, is Nathan Yungerberg’s Golden Gate. A young man has arrived in town and is befriended by an older man. Seems simple enough, but it’s successful because it’s written with mystery. It also gives us the evening’s best performance, from Gus Solomons Jr, as the elder man. The character’s behavior is inexplicable, but it has a dramatic truth that the actor illuminates.
Prize Fight, by Michael Weems, presents us with a female boxer, her trainer, and a rival boxer. What makes the play work is the complexity of the relationship between the trainer and the boxer, which is skillfully revealed. When we think we understand it, we learn more. It contains truthful surprise, a dramatic device well used.
Cowboy Cut, by Nelson Clark, presents us with Arizona Slim, a contractor who’s bribing someone named Shelby for a contract to build prisons. It isn’t clear if Shelby is a politician or just representing a politician. The play is absorbing, with a set of reversals. It’s another example of truthful surprise.
Jim Gordon attempts to portray an intensely dramatic situation in The First Bridge. A young actress has committed suicide after making a pornographic movie, and her mother confronts the porn producer. This set-up is almost too fierce for a short play; we don’t have the time to absorb the magnitude of the emotions. Raquel Almazan has directed non-realistically, although the script is realistic. Her actors use 12 boxes, with an overlay of new age (no lead) music. It’s interesting, an admirable attempt.
The Sleeping Beauty of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Frisino Toohey, is light piece about a couple who discover their cleaning lady dead in their apartment - an unfortunate circumstance, since the realtor is showing it in a few minutes. We mustn’t take it seriously, but it’s fun. It doesn’t finish; it merely stops.
A much darker piece is A Sudden Loss of Altitude, by Peter Kennedy. It concerns a couple of gay men, an air pilot and a politician, who’ve just spent the night in a hotel room. The pilot is about to handle a flight even though he’s probably inebriated. It’s a first-rate example of short drama, well served by Anthony Inneo as the senator. Jake Turner directs with great skill.
Shelley Berman’s No Soap is a comedy credited to Bob Canning; it’s based on a Shelley Berman sketch. It’s an epistulatory play. The characters read aloud to us the letters they’re writing. On one side of this exchange is a frustrated hotel guest. The hotel maids insist on leaving him small bars of Camay, Cashmere Bouquet, Ivory and “one rogue bar of Palmolive” soap when he prefers his own Irish Spring bath soap. On the other side are the maids and other hotel staff. It’s amusing, and there’s a sweet ending.
Two by Eugenie Carabatsos, presents us with two dolls, Benjamin and Bernadette, in a box. They’re in an attic – “I’ve deduced it,” Bernadette announces. She keeps trying to rip off her own head out of frustration. Benjamin has better sense, and there’s some lovely interaction between them, and a nice, warm ending.
Speed Play, by Alex Dremann, and A Long Trip, by Dan McGeehan, fail because of their standard situations. The first is about a park bench date, the second about an older couple trying to recall their first kiss. The good actors can’t compensate for the generalized characters.
Schreiber Shorts 2017, then, makes for a satisfying evening of theater. T. Schreiber Theatre has done a fine job.