BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Snapshots 2000, An Evening of One-Act Plays
One-act play assemblages are a vital part of talent development and showcasing. Some of these collections focus on a single author, others on plays of a specific length. The best are a mix of previously produced and never produced works by writers ranging from unknown to well-known. The Worth Street Theater Company's Snapshots 2000 falls into this last category, its "2000quot; tag identifying it as the third in what started as a special event. As evident from the absence of set design credit, it is a bare bones affair with the emphasis on the words and the actors speaking them and stagecraft notable for the clever use of a few basic props, apt incidental music and Matthew Piercy's compelling lighting.
Not having seen the previous collections, I can only judge this latest edition on its own merits. Worth Street regulars such as Gerald Anthony, Keira Naughton and Jim Hazard) are as at home here as they've been in the company's full-length plays. A company newcomer, Derek Lively, more than lives up to his name, especially in his star turn as Reverend Benson in Robert O'Hara's Dreamin' In Church. As for the playlets or short one-acts (as opposed to full-length plays without intermissions), all are fragmentary examinations of the American experience.
Of the seven "snapshots" comprising the current collection, the centerpiece and most fullbodied is Bagging Groceries by a playwright fresh out of Yale Drama School, Mark Novom. The play is adroitly constructed to take us forward and backward between 1972 and the present and locations that include Vietnam, the Brooklyn Promenade, Venice Beach and a prison cell. However, even the splendid performances by Paul Whitthorne, Derek Lively, Karen Traynor and Gerald Anthony, can't save this mini-epic from its self-indulgent repetitiveness. Bagging Groceries is thus an auspicious if flawed debut affair.
The most amusing selection, and a tour d'force for actor Derek Lively, is Dreamin' In Church, the first of Robert O'Hara's two contributions which precedes the intermission. The four boxes that serve as the main props throughout the evening are piled on top of each other as a church lectern at which the Reverend Benson delivers a sermon to those of his gossipy and bigoted parishioners he calls "I Heard Folks." The "I Heard Folks" are up in arms about hanky-panky among Benson's choir boys and Benson's sermon against their rumor mongering explodes with his hilariously walking out of his "own closet door." This entertaining monologue is followed by Genitalia, O'Hara's riff on baby naming. A pregnant woman's announcement that she plans to call her baby Genitalia sets three other African-Americans to yakking up a storm on their cell phones in and around Cincinatti, Ohio . The program notes state that Genitalia was rejected by the Humana Festival in Louisville, KY , because of "lewd" language. The judges might also have been influenced by the fact that O'Hara's title is more provocative than what is essentially a skit.
Director Cohen's own contribution to the evening, Bea's Legacy, is an adaptation of a full-length film script. The central character is a young woman (Keira Naughton) whose mother died mysteriously. Her interrogation by a nameless interviewer (Gerald Anthony) leads to flashbacks about her growing up the daughter of a man involved with the CIA complex in Langley, VA and her relationship with Ned Tripplett (Paul Whitthorne). There are some gripping moments here and Naughton is particularly effective, but what you see leaves you with a sense of having seen clips from the Coming Attractions -- only you can't come back to see the film and fill in the holes.
The two plays Peter Hedges refers to as his "food plays" are Scene With Celery which uses a glass full of celery stalks to set the scene (a bar) for a fight the battle of the sexes (with Adam Hirsch and Noel True as the sparring couple) and The Age of Pie which gives a Mack Sennett pie in the face epiphany to a very funny encounter group meeting of the whole cast. Celery, which is the second item on the bill of fare, would have been more effective as the opener -- thus making it and Age of Pie fitting bookends. Whether Romulus Linney's Stars would have come off better if not required to set the tone for the evening is another matter. I found Linney's story about a man (Jim Hazard) and a woman (Diane Love) who meet at a cocktail party on the way to having an affair the least satisfying of the seven "snapshots." Largely this was because the actors fell, or were allowed to fall, into the trap of using the intimacy of the tiny theater as an excuse to resort to often inaudibly intimate delivery.
As you will gather, Snapshots 2000 is not a picture perfect affair. However, the generally savvy direction assures that the parts of the sum offer sufficient enjoyment to warrant a trip to Reade Street. At the modest $15 ticket price, you can include dinner in one of the many restaurants within blocks of the theater.