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The ArtsCenter in Carrboro has hosted the Playwrights’ Roundtable for many years now. Saturday evening, the group presented its annual production of Spring Shorts, a sextet of plays that ran the gamut from same-sex marriage to gun control. Each new play has been written and directed by the author. While each play consisted of no more than two actors, there were two shows that were monologues, and surprisingly, they were the strongest plays of the night.
Act I began, appropriately, with Mark Twain’s Opening Remarks. Paul Newell, who organized the Roundtable back in 2004, wrote and performed the monologue, which covered the evening’s topics, from drinking and smoking to income inequality. Newell has studied and perfected the nuances of Mark Twain, and gave a tremendously entertaining and relevant discourse on topics of today’s news. It is interesting to note that, while not all of the day’s topics were items of discussion in Twain’s time, most of what Twain touched on were, and it was delightful to hear what the author and comic had to say concerning, for example, how capitalism drove a wedge in the economy of 1893.
Act I continued with a comic depiction of same-sex marriage, So He Says She Says I Says You Says, by Ken Wolpert, the only playwright to present two plays in the evening. On a park bench in a children’s play yard, Herb (Paul Baerman) regales poor Mariel (Abby Overton) about his life with his deceased wife, his daughter Rhonda, his grandkids — who are playing in the park with them — and the fact that Rhonda is gay. Baerman presented his work in Act II, but here showed off his acting skills as well. Herb is a pompous old soul who dominates the conversation, while poor Mariel must restrain herself in her guarded and calculated answers to his pointed questions. Kudos to two fine actors as they carried out this quality and fun intercourse.
John Paul Middlesworth wrote the last of Act I’s fare, The Play’s the Fling. Imagine a theater where the plays produced are designed to allow the main actor to play out his mid-life crisis. Kira (Lisa Levin) and Melanie (Danielle Fenton) are the two people who dreamed up this rather outré proposal, and we watch as they pitch it to a prospective producer, the wife of the man whose crisis they will present. The idea is that with the wife producing the show, the husband plays out his midlife crisis onstage, and thus not in the real world. When you stop and think about it, it sounds like it just might work! The fun aspect of this show was the multiple characters each performer played, as they acted out what has happened in previous shows for their imaginary client.
Act II’s opener was Stipulation, Ken Wolpert’s second show of the evening. Man (Drew Gulino) and Woman (Mary Forester) are lazing on the beach together when Man declares, “I love you.” Woman responds, “I love you more,” and the race is on. Who is able to outmaneuver who is the idea, and this particular show turned out to be R rated for language, which is pretty interesting considering that this show was about language in particular. The argument has a nifty turn, however, and bliss is restored before the curtain falls. This one was perhaps the weakest show of the evening, but with such a wealth of riches to choose from, that is still a compliment.
Gunplay: The Rifle Report was Paul Baerman’s writing contribution to the evening, as a Remington thirty-aught-six named Phoebe Ann talks to us frankly about guns and men. While there was humor and sex involved in this discussion, the overall discourse was chilling, and there was a real understanding by the playwright about men, guns, and why they exist in such unqualified numbers. To hear Abby Overton as Phoebe Ann talk about the men she has known was to know the seemingly unfathomable relationship that exists in the U.S. between a man and his gun. This show was the absolute best of the evening, with a dynamite performance by Overton and a tremendous amount of insight on the part of the author.
Unnoticed concluded the evening, as two brothers took a trip to the Ackland Art Museum to see a pair of Sutra Covers. It isn’t until they are actually in the museum, late at night, that Mark (Mark Jantzen) informs Paul (Paul Newell) that they are here to steal the covers for Mom. Mom, you see, is dying, and Mark is determined to get these immaculate covers for her before she goes. The play is a character study of familial relationships, brother-to-brother, son-to-mother. This work by Mark Cornell underscores the lengths sons will go to please their mothers. A funny and touching show provided a fit ending to an evening of truly inspired works by local playwrights.
The Playwrights’ Roundtable is not idle during the summer; they are planning their annual Playslam! on Sunday, September 7 and their annual Halloween Shorts, this year on Saturday, November 1. Mark your calendars. If this presentation is any indication, these two shows will give us even more insight into the local playwright in the Southern Part of Heaven.