Theater preview: Actors workshop opens up a six-pack of comedy

MIDDLEBURY-June starts the summer theater season, so turn off the TV and come to Town Hall Theater for Middlebury Actors Workshop’s latest sampler of one-act plays, “Summer Shorts.” This six-pack of comedies opens Thursday, June 26, for five performances, including a Saturday matinee.
Artistic director Melissa Lourie values the 10-minute play as a fun way to do a broad range of material and showcase more talented actors. “The theme of the evening is relationships and people behaving badly. There’s a lot of playfulness. Also kissing and slapping.”
The action begins with “Boise, Idaho,” a play-within-a-play by Sean Michael Welch. The narrator (played by Jason Lorber) fantasizes a Paris romance between the very passionate Chastity (Karen Lefkoe) and the very awkward Olston (Mark Nash), who follow the narrator’s directions faithfully, kiss by kiss and slap by slap.
In “The Scary Question,” directed by Kathryn Blume, a young couple who have been dating for eight months has reached the point in their relationship when Bryan (played by Jory Raphael) comes home from a Zombie Night film festival, burning to take things to the next level. He tells Linda (Haley Rice) he has a very serious question to ask. But instead of the expected “Will you marry me?” or at least “Let’s live together,” Bryan has something else on his mind. After a few moments of shock, Linda rises to the occasion.
The third play was penned by a local author, Rice, who is Town Hall Theater’s operations manager. It’s called “Zombie Funeral,” but why, you might ask, does a zombie need another funeral? Rice explains that in the world of her play, a zombie like Carl (Mark Zelis) can return to warm-blooded life, which leaves his still-decomposing buddy Mr. Davis (Leigh Guptill) bereft. So Mr. Davis throws a funeral to wish his friend goodbye, but somehow he just … can’t … let go.
Ten-minute plays are an important part of the American theater scene today, but they aren’t entirely new. Anton Chekhov’s “The Proposal,” a fast-paced farce, debuted in 1890. Tsar Alexander III of Russia loved the original; MAW’s version was adapted by Paul Siemens to give each character one name instead of the usual Russian three or four that can be so confusing to American ears. Evan (Jory Raphael) seeks the hand of Natalia (Haley Rice) in marriage, but her father is out, so Evan must deal with her brother Stephan (Robert Harte) instead. It ought to be a simple transaction, but comic complications immediately ensue.
In “Night Rules” by playwright Billy Aronson of “Rent” fame, Rob (Jory Raphael) and Becky (Wendi Stein) visit Andrea (Karen Lefkoe) and Ken (Jason Lorber). They are Baby Boomers with very definite ideas about parenting, but not long into the discussion even stronger passions take over.
The evening wraps up with “Post-Its (Notes on a Marriage),” by Paul Dooley and Winnie Holzman, directed by Lindsay Pontius. It’s a funny and touching account of the ups and downs of a long marriage, told entirely through a museum’s archives of Post-It notes left on tables and refrigerator doors by a husband and wife. In a sort of emotional archaeology, two actors (Rob Harte and Wendi Stein) read and reenact the story of the couple. The play is an updating of A.R. Gurney’s 1988 Broadway hit “Love Letters,” and little yellow stickies in turn are indeed being left behind by texts, Twitter and who knows what next. But regardless of medium, love continues to express itself. Pontius says that directing a one-act play can be even harder than a full-length three- or five-act drama. “You’ve got to capture everything in 10 minutes. The audience has to be right there and know exactly what’s going on.”
Notably, “Summer Shorts” features three women directors — or four, if you count Shannon Bohler-Small, a founding member of MAW, who choreographed the show’s entr’acte interludes of scene setting, costume-changing and furniture moving. The male domination of directing has been slow to change, says Kathryn Blume. “Traditionally director positions have been held by men. We are still a culture that doesn’t trust women in positions of authority and power.” But women can create their own opportunities. Despite being told for years as an actor that she thought like a director, Blume did not get her first directing gig until 2010 when the newly formed Burlington all-women company Girls Nite Out hired her for “Steel Magnolias.”
“Summer Shorts” is MAW’s fourth offering of one-act plays. Based on the last three, this one should not be missed. Get your shorts on!
SUMMER SHORTS, a production of Middlebury Actors Workshop, at Town Hall Theater, Middlebury. Opens June 26, with performances Thursday through Saturday 8 pm, Saturday 2 pm, and Sunday 7 pm. All seats $20. Tickets call 382-9222, visit the box office, or go to www.townhalltheater.org/calendar-and-tickets.

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