4/4/2019 WOMEN'S SHORTS 2019 Out of Box Theatre
***½ ( B ) (Overall)
(Bias Alert: I have worked with Out of Box Theatre and will soon do so again. I also have several friends in this cast and crew. Needless to say, I tend to view their work through approval-tinted glasses, and this column will no doubt reflect that bias.)
So, how does one write about a collection of mini-plays by various writers? The latest edition of Out of Box's Women's Shorts (curated and collected by Carolyn Choe and the Out of Box Board), is eclectic and wildly divergent in appeal (at least for me). Of course, these are my friends, so it goes without saying that the performances were as good as I expected and the physical production was pretty much the same as last year -- the previous show's set festooned with Out of Box women in their glory, actresses who have graced this space with their outsized hearts and plus-sized talents.
So, let's just look at the plays one-by-one.
"Lunch With Yaya" by Mimi "Mimosa" Palmer (directed by Amy Levin). Joan is a senior citizen enduring a judgmental visit from her daughter Angela. Joan has been "being naughty" and Angela is having problems with her mother's (mis)behavior. This is a nicely comic "opening act," with Joan's blithe acceptance of her "new infection" even more aggravating to her daughter, who apparently. has issues with "senior sex." For the record, this play-let includes one of the funniest sight gags EVER involving a dildo -- and, considering the tenor of OOB's Santa After Hours level of humor, this is actually a high bar. (Grade: ****½ A )
"Conditions" by Jordan Elizabeth Henry (directed by Kayleigh Mikell). A humorous look (with acid) "under the hood" of an exciting same-sex relationship, creeping up on that uncomfortable point where the "commitment disconnect" is at its widest. Harley insists that Tris "leave nothing behind" to "stake a claim" on her apartment. Except that conditioner that leaves its tell-tale smell NOT on top of the head. That SPECIAL conditioner! (Grade: **** B+ )
"Secret Family Recipes" by Emily McClain (directed by Savannah Jones). A scam-artist "medium" discovers she may have a real connection to "the other side" when a mourning sister wants to contact a dead sibling to find a book of family recipes. When the sister actually shows up, all sibling rivalry breaks loose. Good times, great recipes, and a taste of the supernatural! Ms. McLain is adept at painting characters with a very quick palette and a colorful turn of phrase. (Grade: ****½ A )
"Litter-ally Love" by Keely L. Herrick (directed by Kayleigh Mikell). Leigh's best friend in the whole world has passed away, and her sisters grit their teeth through the memorial. Especially when it is revealed that the feline "guest of honor" has been stuffed and mounted. This one has enough laughs to be pleasant, but hits the "cat-lady" stereotypes a tad too blatantly for my tastes. (Grade: **½ C )
"Swans" by Bryn Striepe (directed by Kayleigh Mikell). Best in Show, IMHO. Jane is waiting for the jury to decide her fate in the murder of her husband. Her sister Alison is reassuring her that "the bastard had it coming" and it was clearly self-defense, but Alison is insisting she didn't do it and her husband wasn't as bad as all that. In a few short minutes, this one addresses violence in a marriage, sisterhood, the dark side of family "interventions," memory, and trust . It also subtly mixes laugh-out-line character-based humor with intense anger, frustration, and numbing resignation. The best performances of the night also (kudos to Jillian Walzer as Jane and Stacy King as Alison), this one "fires on all cylinders." (Grade: ***** A+)
To make a confession no critic should ever make, at this point I began to "zone out." I had spent the day "on the road" from a Gulf Shore vacation, and the miles and hours were taking their toll.
"Out From Under With Mary" by Chris Shaw Swanson (Directed by Savannah Jones) A woman accuses a homeless woman of a too-cozy friendship with certain illegal substances. (No Grade, because, Old Man Brain )
"Family Politics" by Drew Fornarola (Directed by Amy Levin). A family dinner is kneecapped by a heated discussion of politics. This was my least favorite, because I didn't think it had anything new or unique to say about family dynamics or about the country's political divide. It seemed to be just four women, sitting around a table, shouting tired clichés and "my bubble" memes that we've all heard many times before. I get it -- politics should NOT be discussed at family dinners. (Grade: **½ C )
"I'm a Bad Bea" by Ellie Styron (Directed by Savannah Jones) Grace accidentally summons a vengeance demon to wreak havoc on the body and soul of her inattentive boy friend. A funny look at the lengths to which less-than-ideal mates can sink. Or to which aggravation can drive us. (Grade: ***½ B)
Let me now praise these wonderful women of talent and skill -- Betty Mitchell, Jillian Walzer, Kate Guyton, Bryn Striepe, Lauren Coleman, and Abra Thurmond (as well as all the directors cited). All played multiple roles in multiple plays, and all were wonderful at telling stories from the context of character and passion and wit. They have always been a joy to work with, and to watch, and I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next!
Women's Shorts 2019 is a continuation of an important series, giving a segment of our theatrical community a voice that is too seldom heard, too often ignored. It is important that these artists are heard, even if some of us Philistines aren't always "in tune" with all they have to offer. These writers deserve the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own terms, and I appreciate that Carolyn Choe and Out of Box Theatre has given them a platform. And, I daresay, a megaphone.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #OOBWomensShorts2019)