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As a part of the celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Playwrights' Roundtable of The ArtsCenter is presenting a "Best of Show" performance of ten of the group's best plays, titled Roundtable Redux. The roundtable was formed in 2004 by Paul Newell, and has been growing ever since. The group was invited by Lynden Harris to meet at The ArtsCenter, where they soon began staged readings of their work. Over the years, they have become the area's only producing playwrights' theatre company.
To open the program, B. Holroyd presented her production from 2006, "The Shoe Sorter." This one-man show gives us an old, black blind man who spends his time sorting donated shoes for a second-hand store. As he goes about his task, he talks to us about his remarkable life. Actor Gerald Rubin portrays the Old Man, who easily sorts old shoes by touch, giving each pair a life of its own. Following that was "Goodbye Again" by Steve Gallagher; the play won the 2009 Play Slam at The ArtsCenter. This three-minute play gives us a couple, Sarah (Julie Oliver) and Jack (Dan Oliver), who are attending their daughter's wedding, despite the fact that they have been divorced for some time. We quickly learn why Sarah will have to say "goodbye, again" to Jack very soon.
In "Power Play," Act I's third production, Ken Wolpert gave us his 2009 production of a play within a play, in which two men celebrate their wedding. Twists come aplenty, but we learn why each man considers the show he is in to be empowering. That is followed by "Pound for Pound," the first of the evening's two shows by Jon Boni, in which two men talk about this and that after "the fights." Dave (John Murphy) and Frank (Joey Infinito) discuss everything from opera to beer, giving each one's opinion on what is best in each subject. This show won the 2010 Play Slam.
Rounding out Act I was "Double Walker," a show by Mark Cornell, from 2012's Halloween Shorts. Alex (Mark Cornell) is shocked to find that he has been spotted by an old friend, Peter (Estes Tarver), whom he hasn't seen in five years. He immediately tries to get Peter to leave, but Peter will have none of it; he wants to know why Alex disappeared so suddenly five years ago. The two discuss the events leading up to his disappearance, after which Peter tries to get Alex to come home. But it is only after Peter leaves, without Alex, that we learn the real reason why Alex is so upset at being found.
Act II begins with a short film by Paul Baerman, "Gunplay: The Rifle Report." This unique show depicts Abby Overton as Phoebe Ann, a .30 Aught-Six Remington rifle. In a dynamic one-woman show, Overton discusses some of the aspects of the relationship between a man and his gun. It is a powerful and sometimes disturbing work, which Overton handles beautifully. The one thing I will say is that I have seen this show as both a film and a live performance, and I must say I prefer it live.
Next was "The Waiting Room," the first of two by Paul Newell, as Newell portrays Count Floyd, who is in a waiting room beside a Girl (Nell Ovitt). Ovitt says nothing in this work, but controls the situation even though the only dialogue is voiced over by Newell. The entire monologue consists of the lyrics to the song "I Put a Spell on You!" The play was a real knee-slapper of a short that really got the audience laughing. This was followed by John Boni's second show, "Nick and Nigel," wherein Nick (Boni) and his English friend Nigel (Simon Kaplan) discuss the various specifics of English versus American restaurants, and the relative superiority of the wait staffs.
The penultimate show of the evening was a play by John Paul Middlesworth, "The Phantom Limb." In this work, Barbara (Kirsten Ehlert) learns she has a superfluous phantom right arm. The shocking thing about this arm is that it has a mind of its own, and writes letters while she sips wine, and also writes notes to Barbara herself. Her boyfriend, Allen (Sean Wellington), a nasty sort who has never seen this limb, derides her mercilessly. Soon Barbara sees a psychiatrist (Mike Shannon) about her problem. You see, the arm wants Barbara to amputate the arm she was born with, so that it might become her good right arm. She ultimately decides to do it, and the operation is a complete success. We quickly learn why the phantom limb was so adamant that Barbara does what she has done.
This thoroughly entertaining evening was concluded by Paul Newell himself in a one-man show titled "Tom and Huck Go to Washington." Newell portrays Mark Twain, in a show where Twain holds court on what is happening today, much the way he did in his own time. To comment on a bit of current politics, Twain acts out both parts of a play within the play, as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn discuss the current affairs going on in Congress over a well-stocked trout stream. This is a fine foil for Newell, who sported the requisite white linen suit and shock of wild white hair as he spoke as easily with us as Twain might have a century ago.
These ten savvy short plays combine to make a thoroughly delightful evening of theatre. In a performance that gives us the gamut from short films to three-minute plays, this is a choice selection of shows from a decade of creative and uniquely individual playwrights. It is a fine conglomerate of talent, from the acting and staging to the creation of the works performed. The evening was only sparsely attended, however, and that means that most of you are missing out on a real treat. As superbly entertaining as the ArtsCenter’s annual Play Slam (coming up later this summer), the Roundtable Redux is a hot commodity, and there is only one performances left. Make room in your weekend for this show; you won’t regret it.
Roundtable Redux closes Sunday, June 21 with a 3:00 performance. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.