This year’s sampling of 10 original 10-minute plays, perennially known as 10 by 10 in the Triangle, tells at least as many truths as it does tales, and brings to Carrboro for the seventh time the short play celebration that gives us 10 plays, 10 actors, 10 minutes, 10 bucks. This one-act festival has become a sell-out draw for, well, seven years.
The one aspect of 10 by 10 that was missing for the first time this year is Lynden Harris, who convinced The ArtsCenter to put on an annual festival of ten 10-minute plays. Not to worry, though; she simply had a little conflict: her honeymoon! Stepping in for Harris is Emily Ranii, director for two of the shows and a well-known name in Triangle theater.
Four of the playwrights on the 2008 list have joined us before; as might be expected, these four guys all refer to themselves as playwrights, giving to us in those short five-line bios the impression that they’re making a living at it. But more than one of the six new dramatists are also playwright/actor/teacher combinations as well, and the level of production this year shines for it.
Five plays each act makes for a pretty even evening, with set changes coming into intermission around 9:30 and ending right at 11. So, for 10 bucks we get a full three hours of brand-new theater — not bad at all for this sold-out, near-SRO crowd.
“Up on the Roof” by returning playwright Mark Harvey Levine is a swift and near-perfect little duet that is, in fact, right up there, because up on the roof is where Carrie (Danielle Koppel) locks herself and Jason (Steven Warnock) when she pulls the card out of the door jamb, where Jason put it. They’ve been fighting, again; but all Carrie really needs is to know that Jason loves her, even when they fight. They try it. It might not be the best cure-all, but it is amazingly funny! Andrew Hayworth directs.
“Exit Interview” by returning dramatist Doug Reed shows what can happen when an employee asks for the interview. Director John Paul Middlesworth shows us that this does not exactly fit the format. HR Manager (Barbette Hunter) confronts the Employee (Rob Jenkins) with 39 questions of “I am leaving because …” with the same five multiple-choice answers. Our Employee battles through — which is not much of a task for one who handed in his annual report written entirely in Haiku.
“Struck” by J. Stephen Brantley deals a dose of karma to a writer (John Allore) who brashly declares “I don’t need Oprah!” by smiting him with a stroke. It sounds grisly, but this is the aftermath; he’ll pull through. Still, his attitude needs adjustment, and his Squeeze (Marissa Nagel) can’t reach him; but, amazingly, his ditz of a home-care volunteer does! Talk about Karma. This trio is directed by Meredith Sause.
“Canyon’s Edge” by Babs Lindsay is directed by Jill Greeson. The playwright uses three people to show what can happen when a guy (John Boni) finally takes his wife (Hunter) to see the Grand Canyon. Their intimate little tryst is interrupted by another Mrs. (Anne-Caitlin Donohue) who feels her husband slipping away. When advised by this man how she should react, she discovers a pretty surprising fact about his spouse. Talk about a Killer Twist!
"Hard Ball” by returning playwright Mike Folie gives us John Allore as the Man in the Middle between his teenage daughter (Lormarev Jones) and a gal from work (Nagel) who has set her baseball cap for Dad. Although his daughter is dead set against it, Dad goes for drinks with his co-worker—and afterwards father and daughter have it out. Playing hardball on the baseball diamond was never like this. Director Meredith Sause makes it two for the evening.
“Speed Mating” by David Guaspari opens Act II, with no human characters but four bugs, two males (Jenkins and Swenson) and two females (Jones and Nagel). Directed by Greg Kable, this play is a tale of the 60 minutes this species has to mate, now that they’ve emerged after 17 years of sap-sucking. Two run off together for speed mating, but do the other two “make it” in time? “Speed Mating” is an insect-sized analysis of making hay while the sun shines.
“Off to Summer” by Tira Palmquist is a sweet and swift conversation in a car between an elderly Dad (Boni) and his adult daughter (Koppel). See, they’ve just arrived at the “home” where Dad will spend his last years and he’s having second thoughts. This play is tidy, real, and amazingly true. Any adult who has had to take parents to an “assisted living facility” knows this one all too well. Greg Hohn directs.
“Stick Up for Mars” by returning dramatist Patrick Gabridge is the first of the two shows directed by host Ranii. In this one, two lady astronauts (Hunter and Donohue) are learning what it’s like to travel real-time to Mars in a space capsule, alone together. They’re getting on each other’s nerves. Will they turn the ship around? Can they do that? I’ll bet 3M never knew their yellow sticky notes could make things so, um, sticky.
“Messages Deleted” by Rich Espey pulls us up short when we learn that David (Swensen) is waiting for his Dad (Boni) to come to the apartment he has shared with Mark (Warnock). Trouble is, he’s never told his dad that he’s gay; and he’s trying to get Mark “out of the way” to keep things smooth while his parents are here. This play has a Twist, too — the same one as in “Canyon’s Edge.” But it is my belief that this work could handle being “second-guessed” better than its companion might have. It’s heavy, but it’s saved in the end because Dad’s a winner.
“Dead Cat” by Ry Herman closes the show with a wackily full stage as two druggies (Koppel and Jenkins) drag her once-husband-druggie (and the show’s narrator, Allore) into the burial of the trio’s now-dead cat. As director Hohn will tell you, it’s complicated. The pair came together because she was married to her ex while he was married to his now-ex (Donohue) and all four lived together. Complications came when a fifth druggie (Jones) moved in and had the hots for our Narrator. Does any of this make sense? It doesn’t have to; it’s hilarious just the way it is.
I give every one of these plays high marks, but some still top others. Only one of the works seemed to be every bit of its 600 seconds long. “Stick Up for Mars” was way too complicated for a set and way too wordy for a script. The two shows most fitting the Drama category were the most memorable, but there was a real cornucopia of analysis of the human condition set in the comedy mode. Best of the night would have to be “Messages Deleted,” just because the trio works so well here. But “Dead Cat” comes in a very close second.
The ArtsCenter presents the Seventh Annual 10 by 10 in the Triangle Festival Thursday-Saturday, July 17-19, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 20, at 3 p.m. at 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510. $10. 919/929-2787 or etix through the presenter's site.. The ArtsCenter: http://www.artscenterlive.org/.