April 28, 2013

Review: Maine Playwrights Festival mixes somber, sweet, silly

By STEVE FEENEY

As the Bard once wrote, "the play's the thing." And there are plenty of good things about the 2013 edition of the Maine Playwrights Festival.

THEATER REVIEW

WHAT: Maine Playwrights Festival presented by Acorn Productions

WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland

DATE REVIEWED: April 26; continues through May 5

TICKETS: $10-$15 (Day and Festival Passes available)

CONTACT: 854-0065; acorn-productions.org

Just to see a bunch of one-acts in an evening is a rare thing in these parts. And it's almost always a rare pleasure for local theater lovers to careen through an evening or two of so much freshly minted theatrical creativity.

The 12th annual festival alternates several different programs of shorter and longer works, culminating in what is billed as a "24-Hour Portland Theater Project" on May 5. The subject of this review, Schedule A, also known as "Beating the Odds," will be repeated May 4.

Friday's program mixed up the somber, sweet and silly, with the latter ingredient particularly abundant.

Michael Tooher's "Rope Trick," directed by Reba Short, put a post-modern spin on a Beckett-style situation of a tug of war by having the writer appear as both a tough master and victim of characters out of control. Tristan Rolfe, Elizabeth Lardie, Evadne Bryan-Perkins and Meredythe Dehne were all involved in broadly tying up the loose-ended plot.

Two other plays also tended heavily toward the silly side. In Roger Clark Van Deusen's "Slunkerfish," directed by Michael Rafkin, Cory King goes through quite a bit of physical comedy while his angler friend, played by Randall Tuttle, spins elaborate yarns of past adventures. David Susman's "Zeno's Arrow," directed by Al D'Andrea, gave King a chance to lecture two lovers (Kara Haupt and Rolfe) on the mathematical impossibility of getting together. It was brief and funny, a good combination for that sort of piece.

Sarah Paget's "Holly Belle" shifted the tone to serious in its consideration of how loss and healing works in a community defined by a way of life familiar to many Mainers. Director Elizabeth Rollins got nice portrayals out of Pamela Chabora and Haupt, though Josh Brassard played things perhaps just a little too low key, even for this essentially poetic tale.

Brassard fared much better in Bruce Pratt's "Memories of Paradise," a two-man play that dealt with issues of nostalgia and regret but reached near-parody status in its detailing of the soap opera elements of a decades-old prom night. The actor teamed well with Tuttle and gave his character depth in this story of two old buddies on the edge of a middle-age muddle.

Michael Levine directed that play and also a monologue by Hal Cohen called "Halo," which seemed a particularly important meditation in terms of recent events. It has a doctor, played by Patricia Mew, recounting a young patient's death and how she came to see the importance of recognizing the need of people to praise responders to an emergency. Small can be beautiful in this type of program and this piece fit the bill very nicely.

There was lots to see and think about at a festival that continues to constitute an important tradition.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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