By Kristof Oltavi
This semester’s DITA One-Act festival presented a roller-coast ride two Fridays ago. This spring, the plays leaned toward comedy and were of mixed quality. Despite an unimpressive start, some pieces managed to outdo my initial expectations, while one in particular – “Ain’t No Hollerin’” – may have contained the seed of genius.
Needless to say, the festival started off on its weakest leg with Ben Flox and Sam Heyman’s, “The Young and the Raptors.” I appreciated the attempt to parody soap, which is always welcomed, but misguided direction spelled disaster for this piece. Perhaps Messrs. Flox and Heyman made the right choice by adding cue cards for the audience – they at least clarified his intentions. What I am more referring to is the director Grace McQueeny’s choice to place the velociraptor character’s subtitles completely opposite my side of the stage, making them invisible for a third of the audience and turning Emily Smith’s perhaps brilliantly played dinosaur into four-odd minutes of grueling nonsense. Moreover, the odd placement of characters throughout made me wonder if Ms. McQueenie had gotten the memo of where this play would even be performed.
The subsequent “Blind Date” immediately raised the bar. I vividly remember laughing for minutes on end at Nick Ingram’s ridiculous outfit, which was then followed up by a delivery rivaling comedy’s best. The script’s not-so-subtle poking-fun at how childhood drama is exaggerated by a six-year-old brain was fun and accurate. I daresay “truck buddy” will find its way into the Hill’s vocabulary fairly soon, if not already.
Michael Herman’s, “The Tree,” was possibly the most stylistically confused of the pieces. Floundering between tragedy and comedy, Cullen Marshall and Casey Sully gave an underwhelming performance. Mr. Marshall’s final soliloquy, while thematically interesting, only left the audience stupefied.
The ensuing “Paperwork” was intellectually the most interesting of the one-acts. Jenna Mansfield’s bureaucratic interpretation of the Hindu-Buddhist reincarnation cycle spoke for itself as an achievement of great wit. This being said, I feel more could have been done with the piece – especially in the casting department. Dominic Rende’s laconic delivery in particular didn’t quite give me the image of a turbulent soul confronting eternity.
They say puns are the lowest form of comedy, although “Lost in Translation” made a good case otherwise. Emily Smith’s lighthearted, clever play crafted its central conceit very well. Ben Flox and Matt Harmon should be noted for their true-to-culture performances; I have to say that Mr. Flox’s Russ was especially on-the-mark. Like “Paperwork,” though, I felt that Ms. Smith’s comedy could have used a little more plot. The characters of Miss Syntax, Miss Diction, and Rosetta Stone lost their appeal after the initial pun was dropped, and the bearded gibberish at the conclusion of the piece could very well have been omitted.
Although I think it was a poor decision to follow the relative length of “Translation” with the prolonged expanse that was “Emerald City, Inc.,” at first Meghan Callahan’s piece did a good job of entertaining the audience. Like a metaphorical Sahara, though, the beauty of this play lots its appeal after the first eighteen or so dunes. I appreciated Ms. Callahan’s faithfulness to the source text, but once it was clear that “Emerald City” would take exactly the same Yellow Brick Road as the 1939 film adaptation, it was hard to keep engaged knowing the full story. The punny names – “S.C.,” “Tina,” and “Leona” – flew in the face of the audience’s intelligence after their initial utterance. We also never got to see any flying monkeys, although considering Jacob Betts’s artistic versatility I doubt such an addition would’ve been difficult to manufacture for our entertainment.
“I’ve Got a Secret,” the second of Mr. Herman’s scripts produced this semester, was a clever addition to the lineup. His imagining of a man “coming out” as two midgets in a trenchcoat functioned both as poignant social commentary (especially in a month of DOMA and Prop-8) and a fresh respite for the audience. Of this cast, Andrew Clement and Matt DeMotts gave outstanding performances.
They were soon to be eclipsed, however, by the apex of the evening, the singularly brilliant “Ain’t No Hollerin’.” This nonsensical, pull-all-the-shots Samuel-Beckett-meets-Mark-Twain slapstick kept the audience dumbfounded and wanting more the whole way through. While utterly illogical, at least as far as I could tell, the piece’s absurdity strove to undo the logocentrism of our millennial generation, even if unintentionally. I applaud director Brett Reiter’s excellent use of the theatre space itself, as exemplified by his taking Mathilde and Gracely up into the rafters in the final sequence. Jacob Betts’s Smiling Toad deserves an honorable mention as pure psychedelic expression par excellence.
The festival closed with two strong comedies, Sahila Jorapur’s, “The Incident,” and Jacob Betts’s, “Sparkes the Unicorn.” I particularly enjoyed Betts’s Tarantinian writing, as applied to the surreal setting of the childhood home. Of the two closing ensembles, Alec Lee, Mike Herman, John Arnold, and Will Brackenbury gave the best performances.
Overall, this semester’s One-Acts provided the high quality of writing and acting that the audience has come to expect from DITA. Although the festival’s first half had trouble getting off the ground, strong writing and acting provided the necessary updraft to conclude the 29th and 30th’s performances firmly in the air.