Spring heralds rebirth, opportunity and awakenings. Maybe that’s why executive artistic director, Jeffrey Sanzel, chose this season to present the original works in Theatre Three’s Annual Festival of One-Act Plays.
Now celebrating its 19th year of world premieres, with Sanzel directing 18 of those years, the Festival once again gives budding playwrights the opportunity to see their work brought to life as they explore the humorous and tragic sides of the human condition. The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre, on the Second Stage, in Port Jefferson is the perfect venue for these engaging offerings, as its intimate setting immerses audiences in the action onstage.
The Festival opens with John Kane’s poignant look at marriage in Ben and Rachel Go to the Movies. The lives of Ben and Rachel are played out against a backdrop of their mutual love of the movies. The relationship begins when Ben invites Rachel to the drive-in to see Doctor Zhivago. Her response: “I don’t go to drive-ins; I get car sick.” Kane’s clever quips are woven into the mosaic of his character’s lives, with each stage defined by another movie. In the end, Ben asks, “Do you know the name of this movie?” Rachel replies, “I’m not sure. The movies today are for kids.” The sensitive portrayals of Ben (by Brian Smith) and Rachel (Tracylynn Conner) glide through each stage of life, beckoning the audience to accompany them on their journey. Sanzel’s staging is smooth with a simple prop or accessory change signaling yet another period of the characters’ lives.
Next, Alex Dremann’s absurd comedy, A Clean Dislike. How many of us secretly harbor dislike for a coworker? How many would boldly confront that person with, “I don’t like you, Annie. Can we schedule something?” In this one-act play, Annie gives a joyously welcoming response: “Oh, sure, sure!” Thus the war of words between Marjorie (Joan St. Onge), and Annie (Linda May) begins. St. Onge’s background as a standup comedian is revealed through her impeccable timing, while May’s prolific theatrical career gives her the chops to go toe to toe with St. Onge. A dueling match of barbs flies and the audience comes out the winner.
The third play is Jules Tasca’s haunting Flying Low, which was inspired by the final terrifying moments of Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. In Tasca’s scene, co-pilot Richard Otto refuses Captain Keller access to the cockpit as he fully intends to crash the airplane into the French Alps and kill all 150 people onboard. Dondi Rollins, Jr. gives a spellbinding performance as the desperate Otto whose descent in his personal life parallels his downing of the airplane. Steve Ayle’ performance as Captain Keller pleading for admittance sends chills through the audience. TracyLynn Conner, as Otto’s girlfriend Freida, is riveting when begging him to stop the descent. Sanzel’s staging joins the actors as passengers on this flight with the audience, who also assume the roles of passengers—spreading the feeling of terror and helplessness through the theater. How clever of Sanzel to leave the audience in distress with no relief that a curtain call could afford. Only the lights coming on mark intermission and the end of Act One.
Robb Willoughby’s dark comedy Bro begins Act Two. The audience is introduced to Mitchell, played with appropriate frenzy by Brian Smith, who has quit work since his dad passed away, and only leaves the house each morning to purchase food for the day—because he refuses to eat anything offered by his mother. “Mom murdered father, she poisoned him,” Mitchell exclaims to his brother, Morgan, innocently played by Brett Chizever. “Our mother is planning on murdering us!” Mother, played with saccharine sweetness by Sheila Sheffield, appears during this indictment. It seems Mother took out life insurance policies on Dad and her two sons. Mitchell fears this is her motive for getting rid of them all.
In Kurt Sass’s Why This Monologue Isn’t Memorized: A True Story, Steve McCoy delivers a gripping monologue as someone who has endured electric shock treatments. Once depressed and suicidal, this therapy has morphed him into a shadow of his former self. He’s no longer causing physical harm, but is left with a mind so scattered he won’t remember us tomorrow. McCoy’s interactions with the audience add a haunting touch to this sad, pathetic figure.
Rounding out the showcase is Tom Moran’s OK Computer, which seems to beg the question, “What is the price of happiness?” Shades of Ayn Rand’s Anthem mixed with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are called to mind as the audience is introduced to Big Data’s rules in a future dystopia. The propaganda in this cyber world spouts, “Contentment is the opiate of the masses.” Solitude is condemned and the words in the members’ minds are planted by Big Data (St. Onge). Planned marriages are the backbone here, and a young man, Colin3912 (Hans Paul Hendrickson), is tortured into acceptance. His parents, Winston3912 (Ayle) and Julia3912 (May), are eerily robotic as they chant in mindless unison the words they were brainwashed to espouse. Jillian1293 (Amanda Geraci) is programmed to accept her fate while Nina (Jacqueline Hughes ) represents the threat that might disturb all this brainwashing. The acting is compelling and the message intriguing.
This timely spring festival of one-acts is finely tuned with thought-provoking plays and a flawless cast. If you have grown weary of the same overdone plays, and crave something fresh and new, run to Theatre Three. You won’t be disappointed.
Theatre Three’s 19th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays is playing now through May 14. See dates and times below, and visit theatrethree.com for tickets.
Saturday, May 7: 3 p.m.
Sunday, May 8: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Friday, May 13: 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 14: 8 p.m.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is a regular contributor to DansPapers.com and the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund.