Why has artistic director, Jeff Sanzel, revisited the one-act play form for the past 20 years at Theatre Three? Sanzel explains this genre allows for treatment of topics not typically addressed in a mainstage production. The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, reminiscent of an Off-Broadway space, is an intimate setting that melds the audience to the actors.
This venue might be the magnetic attraction that draws actors to return regularly. The present production joins some of Long Island’s most seasoned actors who have appeared multiple times in Theatre Three’s One-Act Play Festival with some relatively new faces.
Comedies and tragedies are interwoven through the collage of scenes offered up this year.
Act One opens with Tony Foster’s absurd comedy (and a touch of audience participation) A New Lease. We are in Gerti’s (Susan Emory) car when her friend Alice (Jacqueline Hughes) says, “We are coexisting in alternate reality.” She continues with, “Jackie Hughes in Theatre Three in a very low budget production.” Are they really actresses onstage, are they driving down a road, or where are they really? Emory and Hughes are thoroughly engaging as this existential question raises some madcap results.
Next up is Patrick Gabridge’s poignant look at the dangers that come in this diverse world in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Jeremy (Skyler Quinn Johnson) is innocently playing his video game when his white adoptive father (Brian Smith) requests his son’s attention so they might have “the talk.” Young Jeremy assumes his dad is about to have a sex talk with him, but this is quite something else. The father warns his black son, “You’ll be watched. So always get a receipt, always ask for a bag or they’ll assume you stole it. You’ll get in bigger trouble than your white friends.” Johnson’s vulnerability hits home as Smith’s concern for his son’s safety.
The third scene is Melanie Acampora’s haunting study of the power of guilt when a family is torn apart by a sudden car accident in When Driven. The audience becomes mesmerized as this family tragedy unfolds. How can parents (Linda May and Steve McCoy) sit by while their daughter (Nicole Bianco) falls into guilt ridden depression over the death of her boyfriend (Mike Fales)? The father asserts that therapy is the answer while the mother insists, “If I can’t fix it then a therapist can’t.”
Leave it to Sanzel to end Act One with a chilling tableau.
Act Two opens with Jae Kramisen’s zany struggles of an insomniac in Counting Sheep. Hughes (Claire) delivers an animated performance as the tortured insomniac who demands, “Come on sleep.” Sleep doesn’t come. Instead, Claire’s mind is invaded first by Suit Man, played to the hilt with swagger and a captivating smile by Antoine Jones. Next Claire’s mother (Joan St. Onge) steam rolls in nagging the girl. St. Onge turns in a deliriously funny performance with her spot on comedic timing.
The second offering is Robin Doupe’s delightful romp into gullible consumerism in Upset Over Nothing. Think of the throngs clamoring for the latest craze like the old Cabbage Patch Doll fad. Now image the box contained nothing more than the birth certificate, yet that little piece of paper was coveted. That’s the gist here, with spirited performances by Phyllis March, May, Fales and Bianco.
Scott Gibson’s black comedy The Kitchen Fairy reminds one to think twice before drinking that cup of coffee at the office. At first glance, Caitlyn (Kate Keating) appears benign with her preppy gray suit and hair pulled back in a bun, but when she complains to her boss, Lonnie (Antoine Jones), about the sloppy co-workers and wishes to teach them a lesson, she takes on a sinister appearance. Caitlyn laments, “So many injustices every day and they just get by.” It suddenly dawns on Lonnie that Caitlyn might have engaged in some harmful pranks. What will she do next?
To round out the evening is Lewis Shilane’s comedic look at school board politics in Lower Education. It seems parents have sent a letter of complaint about Mel Meyer, the science teacher’s (Steven Uihlein), announcement that Pluto is no longer a planet. The antics of the school board secretary (St. Onge), the school board treasurer (March) and the school board president (Smith) leave the audience in guffaws.
Yes, there’s a good reason why audiences flock to Theatre Three for the festival each year. Sanzel continues to serve up fine one-act plays and superb performances by his actors.
The 20th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays runs at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, through April 1. Visit theatrethree.com for more information.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of the new musical Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund, premiering at the South Shore Theatre Experience from May 20–28. Call 631-669-0506 for reservations.