Monday, October 15, 2012

An Improbable Peck of Plays

From left: Pamela Arndt, Ken Luce, Dennis Worrel, Becca Mitchell and Jeff Hirschberg in rehearsal for An Improbable Peck of Plays. Photo by Mark Alford.

There’s a peck of creativity — maybe even a bushel and a peck — at The Midnight Sun Performance Space right now. Three highly respected theater groups, seven Northwest playwrights, four directors and 11 actors have pooled their talents to present seven or eight highly innovative one-act plays in this little alternative performance space.
I say seven or eight because there is supposed to be one new play by Bryan Willis added for the last night. Willis, as area theatergoers know, is the founding director of the Northwest Playwrights Alliance and one of the most respected playwrights in the Pacific Northwest.
The groups that have come together for this production are the Alliance and Prodigal Sun Productions and Theater Artists Olympia. The actors range from old timers with far more than a peck of experience under their belts to newcomers like Robert Bristol, whose only previous acting experience, I was told, was a brief walk-on in TAO’s Titus Andronicus at Olympia Little Theatre. 
This evening of one-acts is a writer’s showcase, and the writing overall is outstanding.
The first play, Playground Confidential, written by Bryan Hawthorne and directed by Camp, is brilliantly written and laugh-out-loud funny. There was so much laughter opening night that the actors were almost forced to pause between lines until the hilarity subsided. The creative premise of the play is a noir-style detective story played out by kids on a school playground with the monkey bar being a sleazy drinking hole and the swings being a swingers’ club. Dennis Worrell is terrific as a Mike Hammer-style detective, and Ken Luce channeling Peter Lorre as the bad guy, Candyman. Brian Jansen, one of South Sound’s all-time great comic actors, makes a cameo as the Hall Monitor in a slow-motion fight scene that brought down the house.
Next came the dark comedy A New Life in a Lifeless World, written by Dan Erickson and directed by Mark Alford (currently playing in Capital Playhouse’s Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story) with assistant director Sam Cori. I found this futuristic play a bit confusing but intriguing.
Similarly confusing— maybe because I had a hard time hearing some of the dialogue—was The Course We Set by Amy Tofte, directed by Tom Sanders. Three generations of women: daughter Pamela Arndt, mother Steffanie Yarton, and grandmother Becca Mitchell talk to each other about love, life and body image while each helps the other tighten a corset in preparation for the daughter’s first date. Arndt’s acting in this one, as in each of the five plays she was in, was wonderful. Arndt is an actor I’ve not seen before but hope to see more of.
A Thousand Words, written by Evan Sesek and directed by Sanders is a two-person play with Bristol as a soldier named Steven and Jansen as George, the gruff, working-class grave digger. As George digs the two of them dig into their feelings about war and death.
Poor Shem and Vowels are both farcical laugh riots. I had to double check the program to see if these two plays and Playground Confidential were written by the same person because they were so similar in writerly style and in attitude – even though Poor Shem was darker. No, none of them were written by the same playwright.
Poor Shem and Vowels each reminded me of Tom Stoppard.
Poor Shem, written by Gregory Hischak and directed by Vanessa Postil, takes place in an office where something very strange seems to have caused a paper jam in a copier. I won’t say another word about the story line because foreknowledge would ruin it, but I will say that I never would have believed a paper jam could be such a big deal or that repeating the same lines over and over with different inflections could be so insanely funny. Jansen, Camp and Worrell display downright comic genius in this play, and the other actors –Mitchell, Luce and Bristol – are excellent as well.
Vowels in a light comedy all about word play, with each character being a letter of the alphabet. ’Nuff said about that. I loved it.
Finally there is Willis’s Evolution of Chaos, which wittily looks into the minds of a bunch of self-conscious and (at least on the surface) boring people at a yoga class. They never speak to each other, but we hear their private thoughts, giving the audience glimpses into what some people may be like if they drop their public masks.
Performances and seating are both limited, so I recommend getting tickets right away.
When: October 13, 18-21, and 25-27 at 8 p.m.
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia Street in downtown Olympia.
Tickets: $12.00 - $18.00 (Sliding Scale - No one turned away) available at the door night of show or online at

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