Curtain closes on year’s Playwriting Showcase
By Paul Beimers
The High Road
The first play is Seth Freeman’s The High Road. Directed by Jill Gittleman and starring Tony Sutera, Linda Sutera and John Abrahamsen, the performance focuses on a couple, Billy and Linda, stuck in city traffic. Billy is frustrated with the other drivers, and fumes over the idiocy of mankind along with everything else on the route, including the electronic billboards and conditions of the roads. Linda comments on his attitude, observing that he is always negative when driving. After making a bet that he could not be positive for a full five minutes, Billy does his best to become lighthearted and cheery, which eventually leads to him being arrested by an officer who suspects he is driving under the influence.
While the acting is certainly exaggerated, the actors do a fine job with the material that they are given and are able to create an entertaining little story with no more props than their talent and a couple of chairs.
The second play is Kerri Quinn’s Home. Directed by Sherri Craig and starring Lynn Timmons-Edwards and Nick Rabe, the story is set within a family home. Cindy’s husband Steve has recently passed away; and her son Scott has been visiting in order to help her clean out the house. The performance is set at the end of Scott’s visit where he tries in vain to convince his mother to leave the ghost of her husband behind and move in with him and his fiancee. An argument erupts between the two of them, with Cindy disapproving of Scott’s decisions in life, bemoaning everything from his choice of wife to the strained relationship that he always had with his father. Scott attempts to counter with observations of Steve’s flaws and contributions to the problem, but Cindy steadfastly refuses to admit any guilt on his part. The play ends with Cindy firmly stating that she will not leave the house, as her husband is “still home.”
An emotional story, the play is quick to suck one in and convince the audience to emotionally invest in the characters. While the plot is one we have likely seen many times over (a son and father growing distant with one another,) the piece is nonetheless a riveting one and its lack of a true resolution leaves the audience with a bittersweet and resonate impression.
The Short List
The third play is John Abrahamsen’s The Short List. Directed by Bob Reynolds and starring Bruce Fox, Chris Gunn and Kerri Quinn, it focuses two middle-aged businessmen who are in the process of hiring new employees. Many of the applicants have recently been fired from Webcon — a highly successful business that was completely dismantled by its owner and founder who subsequently moved into relative seclusion for unknown reasons. The two men, Hershberger and Stockman, are fed up with the whole ordeal and want to get it over with, trying to work through their lists of top choices in an attempt to agree on one. This does not quite work out, as each ridicules and mocks the other’s choice with every name that is mentioned. They finally call in one of the hopefuls: Samantha Worthington, who once worked for the Webcon’s owner as a “personal guru.” The two men poke fun at her title, while simultaneously trying to figure out what it is she actually did for the company and whether or not her advice may have led to the dismantling of Webcon. After sarcastically advising one of the men to kill himself, Worthington leaves, and another hopeful is called in.
An interesting take on the business world and the repercussions of fame and success, the story is enjoyable largely because of the chemistry between Fox and Gunn. The pair works well together, and generates quite a few laughs throughout the course of a plot that, in another form, could very well come across as gloomy or stale. Quinn, though her role is small, complements the other two with her performance, which lends an air of mystery and foreboding to the proceedings.
History of Art Criticism
The fourth play is Daniel Curzon’s History of Art Criticism. Directed by Josh Savrin and starring Amber Stonebraker, the tale focuses on the reactions of various passersby to a chalk drawing that has been etched onto a city street. The audience witnesses the varying opinions of the people who view it, ranging from awe and appreciation to disgust and incredulity. The play ends with a final citizen’s remark that “there used to be something important here,” as the drawing has vanished.
Questionably the highlight of the evening, the performance is both interesting and entertaining. The piece, despite featuring over two dozen characters, has only one actress, who manages to convincingly portray every persona that the script throws at her. Even without the many props that she employs, she manages to be entertaining and distinct with every one of her characters. And despite the fact the staging consists of nothing more than a girl repeatedly walking across the floor while staring at a blank spot on the ground, the story manages to inspire laughs as well as thought.
Written by Doug McGlothlin, directed by Lynn Timmons-Edwards and starring Clinton Craig, Sherri Craig and Tony Sutera, Snip centers on a couple, Dan and Cathy, who are receiving a doctor’s consultation. Dan is planning on getting a vasectomy, which Cathy is unsure of. She wonders if they may one day want a larger family, despite the fact they already have a son and daughter. Her worries are not helped when their consulter, Dr. Johnson, is revealed to be a bit of a child at heart, constantly cracking jokes during the meeting. The couple ends up leaving in a huff.
Lighthearted and good-humored, the story is a straightforward little piece that tackles a relatively sensitive subject gracefully. It is both entertaining and informative, and keeps the momentum moving.
Bob Reynold’s Student Teacher, directed by John Abrahamsen and starring Chris Gunn, Nick Rabe and Amber Stonebraker, is a story that takes place in a hotel room where a teacher, Paul and one of his former students, Matt, are discussing an upcoming convention the former will be speaking at. Matt confronts Paul over his marrying of another student, Carol, who Matt has always been interested in; and gets him to admit that he slept with Carol while she was still technically his student. Matt also reveals that the conversation is being recorded and broadcasted to colleagues, which will cause him to be fired, thus losing his pension and tenure. Carol is also there and reveals that she is now in a relationship with Matt and planning on using the video to divorce Paul. Paul, however, is happy over this, and leaves after warning Matt that Carol is manipulative and unstable.
The twisted storyline and dark subject matter here provides a stark contrast to the previous piece, which increases its impact. It is absorbing and disturbing and lingers with the viewer well after it ends.
Store for Men
Store for Men is written by Northern Arizona University’s own Professor Mary Tolan. Directed by Josh Savrin and starring Bruce Fox, Clinton Craig and Linda Sutera, it deals with a father and son as they travel across the country on Route 66 as they head to California with a shipment of cattle. When the son, Sam, mentions his intentions to attend college and become an architect, the father belittles him, believing that he will one day become a trucker or army recruit — just like his older brother. The father decides to stop at a “Store for Men,” believing that it will provide the perfect opportunity for Sam to lose his virginity. Much to his chagrin, it is revealed to be a clothing store, and he is left to wait in the truck while his son purchases a new hat. As they continue their trip, Sam promises to visit his father during the summers when he is attending college, and eventually his father admits he is proud of him.
Though an odd ending to the night, the story is nonetheless a charming one. The characters of the father and son play-off one another well, and the story’s direction takes a nice turn near the end, allowing it to finish on a satisfying note.
The lights go up. The cast files in and takes its bow. Vicki Thompson introduces the directors and compliments them on their contributions. Chris Gunn then awards the writers of the plays with certificates for their achievements as finalists. As the evening draws to a close, the audience files out, pausing to interact with the performers and take part in the complimentary refreshments.
And so ends another year of the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. The winners have been chosen. The awards have been distributed. The talent has been put on display. And so it begins anew. Get those pens out, aspiring playwrights. This next year could be yours.