Sunday, May 8, 2011

24 hours. 15 actors. 5 premieres. Welcome to Plan B's Slam.

I'm guessing that if you're a playwright, you might occasionally have this nightmare: 24 hours from now will be the premiere of your latest play.  And you haven't written a word.  You don't even know who the actors are.  Holy cow! You don't even know the title.

Bringing playwright's nightmares to life is Plan B Theatre Company's annual Slam event.  Here's the idea: You assemble five playwrights.  You give each of them a title of a play and an inspirational photo. Then you assign them each three actors.  Exactly 24 hours later, you expect them to have a ten-minute play on stage in front of a live audience.  I was part of that audience.

This year, the playwrights were all given the same title: Control_Alt_Delete.  Even the inspirational photos were similar.  So it's no surprise that many of the plays took new beginnings as their theme.  Most of the plays explored the idea of resetting, of hoping that we could push a few buttons and get a fresh start.  Three plays stood out for me.

The first  was written by Eric Samuelson.  (Marcine Lake, Director with Joe Debevc, John Graham, and Christy Summerhays as actors.)  I recently read Donovan Hohn's Moby Duck.  And it was obvious from this play that Samuelson also read this book.  One of the central characters in the play is a junior high-school teacher writing a book about 28,800 rubber bath toys lost at sea.  Much of the play references the book and even delivers a number of the facts from the book.  I loved that book and I can see why it inspired this play.  Samuelson's play is an environmental treatise that reiterates the issues raised by Hohn's book. It's a reminder that we should be more concerned about the plastics we so readily discard. A statement about a desire to reset planet earth in hopes of repenting for our environmental sins.  That was the good part of the play.  Unfortunately, the play often lost its focused (and I can hear Samuelson rightly screaming at this comment, "Of course it lost focus, I HAD 24 HOURS.")  That lack of focus left me wanting more.

A better 24-hour play was Matthew Ivan Bennett's version of Control_Atl_Delete.  The last play of the night, it focused on a couple trying to restart their marriage.  With charm and a lot of sexually-charged humor, Bennett reminded us that relationships are as much about jealously as they are about love. 

The best play of the night was written by Jenifer Nii. Theatre is always best when it's about stories.  And Nii's version of Control_Alt_Delete is grounded in story telling.  It centers around a man who recently learned that he has cancer.  Rather than tell his partner, he chooses to leave. His brother (and his brother's wife) express their sympathy and their concern about the situation. The result is a story filled with emotion and centered on the idea that sometimes life demands a reset.

I'll bet Plan B's Slam is a nightmare for playwrights, actors, directors, stage hands, and others.  But it's a delight for audiences.  

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