K Dances’ ‘Shorts 2016′ offers a rare chance to see One Acts done well
Read More: Alan Sader, Andrew Etheredge, Billy-Christopher Maupin, Caleb Wade, Chris Craig, Dan McGeehan, David Auburn, David Ives, Jacqueline Jones, K dance, Kate Brady, Kaye Weinstein Gary, Liz Earnest, Luke Newsome, Shel Silverstein, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tennessee Dixon, Tennessee Williams, Tricia Wiles
For the past couple of years Kaye Weinstein Gary, Artistic Director of K Dance has teamed up with theater director Billy Christopher Maupin to present an evening called “Shorts”, at which, according to Ms. Gary, “we select short plays, engage different directors and seek out performers that want to explore both the spoken text and the nonverbal art form of movement.”
This year Richmond Triangle Players hosted the event in their Scott’s Addition Theater.
I am not qualified to critique dance. I know what I like, but that’s immaterial for publication under my name. Please read my learned colleague Julinda Lewis for that perspective.
I am a fan of the One Act Play. All of our greatest playwrights took to the form. They are substantially different to produce than full length theater. An evening of One Acts may or may not have a common theme. They may or may not focus on one playwright. “Shorts 2016” does not seem to have a common thread or feature, just one playwright. The project seems to focus on one core ensemble doing both dance and drama side by side.
The concept is slightly hodgepodge. You risk the pieces not flowing correctly for an integrated evening. Fortunately, although the pieces in “Shorts 2016” seem disparate from each other, they complement each other very well.
The integration of dance and story was well achieved in the first piece presented, The Plane on the Runway at 6AM, by Suzan-Lori Parks. In it, the ensemble are each going to and from some business at an airport. Nine performers inhabit the stage, pull or push luggage, get in each other’s way, trip, skip, and creep in a stop-start silent motion picture kind of way. No words. It was extremely satisfying to see local actors who you don’t see do this sort of thing often, do this sort of thing.
In every actor there is a dancer of some kind wandering beneath. It was a fun piece.
There was also dance to be found in Talk to Me Like the Rain … and Let Me Listen, a one person monologue by Tennessee Williams and Garbage Bags by Shel Silverstein.
In the Williams piece Ms. Gary came on stage in dance. When the monologue began, she stopped. I don’t see a director listed so I will assume Ms. Gary directed herself. I say that because I wasn’t sure where the directorial perspective was coming from in this very difficult piece. Williams’ long monologues are, in my opinion, so theatrical that they are well suited to movement. I wondered if this wasn’t the piece that could have been turned into a choreographed dance monologue. This would have required a critical eye guiding the actress along. I think continued expression through movement and words would have enhanced the performance, which felt a little disjointed to me.
In the Silverstein piece, dance and movement were more integrated as Ms. Gary, Andrew Etheredge and Kate Brady danced both with and in garbage bags as well as the garbage that came out of them. The piece concerns a little girl who would not take out the garbage until the garbage basically took her out. Gary, Etheredge and Brady are trained dancers. This was a more successful piece for the company I think because poetry suits continued movement more often than drama.
The rest of the evening consisted of three one act plays which contained no dance per se, but were staged to accentuate the movement of the characters.
Most affecting was A Long Trip, by Dan McGeehan and directed by Maupin. Alan Sader and Jacqueline Jones play an older couple reminiscing about their first date and first kiss at the beginning of their relationship. Chris Craig and Tricia Wiles play their younger selves. Sader is gentle and sweet bringing his wife along the memory journey, because, as it turns out she has dementia, and is losing her past. Both Mr. Sader and Ms. Jones hit the stage with fully realized characters knowing that in the one act format, there is no time to ramp up. Maupin showed a great sensitivity to the aging process and a dreamy fluidity with his staging. The flashbacks with Craig and Wiles were very sweet and well woven into the main story, mirroring the wife’s spotted memories.
The Green Hill written by David Ives and here directed by Maupin has a great premise and an unconventional trajectory. Ives is a master of absurdly entertaining one act plays.
The Green Hill, a “book end” play, embraces a Southern Gothic style as Jake visualizes a green hill where he can find peace and dashes all over the world trying to locate it. His girlfriend, Sandy, is understandably dismayed, but it doesn’t stop Jake from searching for his lost horizon, encountering 16,973 hills in the process.
The play leaves questions about human existence hanging in the air for the audience to digest. Given the near hopelessness of the quest, the tone of the show is not glum. Ives seems to suggest through the comedic structure of his work that perhaps laughter is the answer to life’s most serious questions. It certainly makes the despair of the unknown palatable.
Maupin gets solid performances out of his cast. Luke Newsome achieves the near impossible – getting the audience to be on his side when his quest seems less Quixotic and more asinine. Liz Earnest challenges Newsome point for point until he flashes his big smile and she momentarily caves.
Are You Ready? by David Auburn fills out the evening. Caleb Wade directs Maupin, Liz Earnest and Andrew Etheridge in a comic piece where three characters all have different motives as they react to the question “Are you ready?” asked by a waiter in a high priced restaurant. The piece is basically three very good monologues. All three actors grab the gusto with the opportunity to define a character in three minutes. A strong showing of a difficult assignment well handled by Wade who keeps the action going and modulates each performance effectively against the others.
What ties all of these pieces together are the superb projections by Tennessee Dixon. Sometimes suggestive, sometimes realistic, sometimes dreamlike in their imagery, every Short piece presented was enhanced by the visuals Ms. Dixon created.
“Shorts 2016” was a very satisfying evening in the theater. By the time this review is published it will have closed. A shame but perhaps I can influence other theater lovers to catch it the next time another version comes around.
“The play is about being true to your authentic self but it’s also about being vigilant in maintaining your rights. It wasn’t very long ago that the world was a very different place.”September 27, 2016
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