Any die-hard theater geek knows that a show doesn't just happen overnight. It usually takes months or even years to write the script, weeks to audition actors, and months to build the set and rehearse the actors before it's "curtain up." That is, unless you're part of The 24-Hour Plays, which debuted at Writers & Books Monday night, less than a day after everyone involved started work on the project.
Thirteen actors, six writers, six directors, and three producers crammed that entire theatrical process into 24 hours -- the final hour being the performance of six freshly written short plays, which ranged from humorous to poignant to downright silly. The challenge alone is dizzyingly daunting, making the scenes performed to a 110 percent packed house Monday that much more impressive.
The night started with an off-color examination of role-playing. In "An Encyclopedia of Bifurcations" by Nina Alvarez, Susanna (Susanna Guarino) and Emily (Emily Horowitz) switch roles almost faster than you can keep up. First they were an actor/director duo, then a horny yoga instructor and her would-be lover. The lightly humorous and feverishly paced short examined our evolution of creativity in a refreshing way.
Roger Gans and Jack Simel practically knocked me from my seat due to laughter in Bill Capossere's "The Farnsworth's Encounter." The theme of switching stories continued on this one, too. Womanizing Red Neck Jack (Simel) and slightly batty nursing-home escapee Reginald Farnsworth (Gans) change names, hats, mannerisms, and everything else at breakneck speed every time a nurse came in and out of the room. Gans and Simel's comic chops shined, as the pair clearly felt comfortable with their characters, and with one another.
Combining a man in a bathrobe holding a bocce ball and a woman wearing moth wings couldn't have been easy, but Craig DeLancey's "Moths" managed to find a way to do it, striking a remarkable balance between funny and poignant. The props and costuming choices were brought in by the actors - each was asked to audition using a unique costume and prop. The premise of the love story between a bocce-playing, bathrobe-wearing boyfriend (Dave Kyle) and his entomologist girlfriend (Jodi Beckwith) is as ridiculous as it sounds, but DeLancey's script found a way to come full circle. Weaving in a few good "ball" jokes for good measure, "Moths" reminds us that for all of our faults, we can still find happiness in someone with whom we can soar.
A cursed guitar was the central issue for the next play -- "The Un-tunable Guitar" by Mark Jabaut. Peter Doyle's deadpan moments as Duane, the dopey janitor, were matched perfectly by wannabe singer Sally (Denise Bartalo), who Duane mistakes for Stevie Nicks. He insisted the reason the guitar she stole from the band Cobb Salad ("No thanks," Duane says), is because it's caramel. Karma does indeed take a central role in this light-hearted look at a down-and-out rock star trying to find her own way.
Another unlikely pair, stranded together in Vegas, was the focus of the next play, "What Happens in Vegas" by Carolyn Kourofsky. British artist Evelyn finds an unlikely roommate for the night in loser-dating, rat-toting, fast-food-eating Tina. Evelyn (a wonderfully funny McKenzie Keenan) is baffled by the casino games. Even though she seems to have experienced less of life than her bunkmate, Tina (a brassy, but oddly charming Stephanie Roosa) tries to impart some wisdom on Evelyn. The two manage to find a mutual interest by the end, as Evelyn can memorize cards for blackjack, and the odd couple jaunts off into the night for some perhaps profitable fun.
The final play was perhaps the best paced and the most balanced of all the scenes put on before us. "Come as You Are" by Dan Mulcahy centers around Carly MacNulty (Allison Roberts), an Irish woman who has made some mistakes in life and is marrying a nice Mormon guy just for his health insurance. Her father, Francis (Richard St. George), meanders about the room, trying to be reassuring in a way only dads can be. If I didn't know better, I would have believed these two were actually father and daughter, as Roberts and St. George played off each other's moments of weakness and one-liners masterfully. Carly jokes about ending up in Buffalo, a place described as "a swirling vortex that hits your car, right at the Batavia exit." (Clearly playing to a local crowd there -- and it worked). "Life's a cruise," Francis trades right back. "And some of us take the Carnival line." The wedding music starts softly in the distance and the two walk arm and arm out the doors. It gave a real sense of closure to a night of masterful entertainment.
If there were missed lines in the night, I missed them, amidst all the fun and thought-provoking entertainment set out before me by this daring group of theater people. And for that, I applaud them.