Monday, October 14, 2013

An Improbable Peck of Plays II

Bobby Brown, Debbie Sampson and Kate Arvin
Last year at this time Northwest Playwrights Alliance and Prodigal Sun Productions teamed up to entertain Olympia audiences with a weird, inventive, (and dare I say improbable) evening of one-acts called An Improbable Peck of Plays. They are back with a second round called An Improbable Peck of Plays II, consisting of six insanely funny stories and one serious and strangely surrealistically play so this year a peck is seven.

Four of the same writers, directors and actors are back. They are:

  • actor Ken Luce;
  • Tom Sanders, serving as both actor in Sinatra’s Ocean and director of Philip Atlakson’s Charlotte’s Web We Weave and William Missouri Downs’ Books on Tape;
  • Gregory Hischak, writer of Hygiene; and 
  • Bryan Willis, writer of The Awesome Power of the Black and Decker LH5000 12 AP Variable Speed Electricleaf Hog Blower and director of Sinatra’s Ocean.
Jeremy Holien and Ken Luce

The evening started with Charlotte’s Web, a cute take on a mother reading the children’s classic to her daughter and the daughter’s insightful questions about the story. It’s just what you’d expect from bright and precocious child. Debbie Sampson as the mother and Judy Oliver as the child both act their parts with style, and there is a delightful but not too surprising twist ending.

Shoe Story by Arlitia Jones is the first of three plays highlighting the skill and versatility of Kate Arvin who plays one of a pair of women with Erin Manza Chanfrau who meet on a park bench and strike up a risible‎ conversation about shoes.

Dan Erickson’s Sinatra’s Ocean was the only serious play in the bunch and the only one I was not pleased with. Sampson and Oliver return in this one along with Sanders. It is a disturbing play about a woman who can’t hear and a nurse who is not really there (but we don’t know that until later) who interprets what is not heard. It was confusing in part because I had difficulty hearing much of what Sampson and Oliver said. They had projected and enunciated clearly in the first play but spoke quietly in this one, and that did not work for me.

In reference to the above I need to add a disclaimer. I have hearing loss that is corrected by hearing aids, and as a theater critic that puts me at a disadvantage. But if I can clearly hear most of the actors I should be able to hear them all. I had no problem hearing Sanders.

Tom Sanders, Debbie Sampson and Judy Oliver
Willis’s play with the extra-long title about the hog blower was hilarious and typical of other plays of his I have seen. Arvin plays a machine, specifically a leaf blower. She rides the backs of Jeremy Holien, Chanfrau and Luce and makes outrageously funny leaf-blower sounds along with facial expressions and physicality to match. Both Willis’s writing and Arvin’s acting score high on the genius scale for this one.

Downs’ Books on Tape, directed by Sanders and starring Bobby Brown and Judy Oliver is an unusual love story well acted by Brown and Oliver about a woman who loves books on tape and a voice actor who makes his living recording them. It would seem an ideal match, but when they come together things do not go as expected.

Hischak’s Hygiene starring Sampson, Arvin and Brown, and directed by Sky Myers is an absurd comedy about a little girl who gets some kind of frightening parasite in her hair. Once again Arvin displays comic genius. I have not seen a grown woman play a little girl this well since Lily Tomlin’s “Edith Ann.”

Finally, Amy Shepard’s 13 Lives, co-directed by Shepard and Sanders and featuring Chanfrau, Holien and Luce is a story of 13 vignettes illustrating typically frustrating things cats do. Anyone who owns cats will recognize them all. Luce in particular displays a knack for physical comedy in these skits that I had never seen in previous shows I’ve seen him do.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and we were out of there by 9:30. For a fun evening of belly laughs, I highly recommend An Improbable Peck of Plays II.

Shows Oct. 17-20 and 24-26 at The Midnight Sun, 113 N. Columbia St.
Tickets: $12.00 - $18.00 (Sliding Scale - No one turned away). Available at door night of show or online at

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