Pillow Talking’s Review of AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS at the Ridgefield Theater Barn

Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review

 

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She Said:

Having seen countless plays in a variety of theater settings, it is unusual to happen upon a very different kind of W-Theater-Barnvenue. From extravagant Broadway theatres with lush velvet seats to traditional 99-seat black boxes or intimate non-Equity stages where the audience is up close and personal to outdoor venues with seating on the grass, we’ve been to them all. So when we walked into The Ridgefield Theater Barn (RTB), we were surprised – and pleasantly so. This quaint, artsy converted dairy barn is home to a theatre with twinkle lights hanging from the ceiling, cabaret-style seating and BYOB as well as BYOF (food) is encouraged – unfortunately we were unaware since this was our first time there, and we wish we’d known as we gazed around, seeing everything from vintage wines and cheeses to beer and Chinese takeout.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, RTB has run their event “An Evening of One-Acts” for the past six years. This year’s line-up was nine original, unpublished short plays, many penned by local playwrights; the theme was “life and relationships through an assortment of perspectives.” Loosely interpreted, these well-written, comical works touched on an array of topics including religion, dreams, death, infidelity, competitive parenting, acting, and brotherly love.

As Wayne and I know, in producing a night of one-acts, it is important to move things along quickly so as not to lose audience interest between the pieces. With simple sets, quickly changed up for each new performance by the entire troupe of actors and other volunteer staff, the plays were well-staged and largely well-acted.

“That’s Amore!” started off the night. Written and directed by the seasoned Constance George, the story features two actresses who are as unalike as can be (played by LeeAnn Levi Miller and Robin Provey) who are auditioning for a play in NYC. Through their comic interplay and a shocking coincidence, they discover that they share something they truly rather would not, and it isn’t their love for acting.

RTB008I’ll admit my favorite production was the second in the line-up: “Bent Wings” written and directed by Carol Mark (who also co-directed the evening’s final production, “Bottled Up”). This fanciful tale quirkily opened with banter between two dissimilar young brothers played by middle-aged men (Steve Bennett and Christopher Griffin). At first it was unclear where it might be going, but it quickly became apparent and worked seamlessly when they later meet in Heaven – or more specifically “Heaven Lite” – and the banter continues. Some people never grow up, or do they? (Just ask my husband, the answer is “no” – he still claims to be a child!) It was a shock to learn that Griffin never has acted before – in his debut performance he certainly came off as a veteran; his chemistry with the fabulous Bennett was perfection. The supporting roles played by Paulette Layton (the heavenly clerk with an affinity for set dressing and ringing a counter call bell) and Kim Bova (also in “Bottled Up”) rounded out a very funny and touching piece.

RTB004And who doesn’t love a little bit of “family business” (read: mob) infecting suburbia? It packs quite a humorous wallop when it becomes the backdrop for placing bets on your grade schooler’s science fair project. In “All’s Fair in Love and Science,” Anthony Barresi, Jr.’s “Vince” is the dad who knows his son won’t win (“he can’t even find the knob on his bedroom door”) – so he tries to strong arm “Scott” (Andrew Rose) into having his daughter take a dive and deep-six her hamster maze. Written by veteran playwright C.J. Ehrlich and directed by Cheryl Ann Boyd (who also produces the evening of one-acts at RTB) this slightly over-the-top piece roused the entire audience.

The first of playwright Jocelyn Beard’s works, “Hark, The Cellos,” directed by Ridgefielder and (hopefully) Broadway-bound Steve Boockvor, features a middle-aged couple in a bar whom we learn has been having an affair for 18 long years. “Bertram” and “Alice” are capably played by Peter Haynes and Valerie Huegel, respectively, neither of whom are strangers to the stage. The play opens with their exaggerated exchange referencing nearly every known “scary” movie sound and situation known to horror cinephiles, most notably cellos from the “Jaws” theme song and the violins from the shower scene in “Psycho.” Marty the bartender at Lucky Daddy’s Eight Ball (Stefanie Rosenberg) enjoys ribbing the pair about everything from the ill-fated marriage proposal Bertram has offered to Alice to Bertram’s love for his (and his wife’s) aging “wiener dogs.”

With something for everyone, “Apples and Oranges” penned by accomplished writer Barry Koplen and directed by triple-hyphenate singer/dancer/actor Sarah Lee Michaels explored “hooking up” under the guise of two young people exploring their differing religious roots. A young Bible-toting woman (Lauren Carlson) interested in a yarmulke-wearing “chosen” man (John Stevan), approaches him under the guise of asking religious questions, only to have the tables somewhat turned when he pursues her right back. With double entendre after double entendre, ultimately who has “chosen” whom?

RTB006After a brief intermission (and an opportunity to pour one’s self another beverage, should you bring them!) the stage was set for “The Opening,” a yarn about an actress’s personal self-doubt and the back-stabbing often seen in show business. Written by 93-year-old Douglas Taylor, a Sanford Meisner trainee and impressive theater veteran, and directed by veteran of the stage Ginny DeMassa Ruggieri, this often comical and slightly over-the-top work featured the talents of Lori Franzese in the lead as Wendy, who loses her role in the production which is only moments from opening, to none other than the director, Dot, played by Kerry Cooper. Fickes and Franzese both have impressive credits to their names. Rounding out the cast were the amusingly irksome Eileen Fickes as Helen and Sam Bass as Charley.

If happen to be someone who wonders about such things as fate, dreams, and life’s many choices, “The Rub” just may have the goods. Written by award-winning Albi Gorn and directed by Sarah Lee Michaels (“Apples and Oranges”) the story delves into the middle-of-the-night, shared REM romps of new coworkers Marieke (Michele Leigh, also a writer and director) and Jeff (Patrick Kelly who has quite an impressive resume). The two at first are flirtatious both in their dreams and in the next day’s recapitulation; night after night, both dreams and reality build to a crescendo – but where will it ultimately take them?

Pulling off good comedy, really good comedy, means stellar writing, great direction, and actors who can hit it out of the park. “Welcome to the Casket Club” had all the necessary parts, beginning with Jocelyn Beard who did double-duty as writer/director. Cell phone-toting couple Maurice and Juliet, perfectly cast with theater mavens Michael Wright and Kimberly Marcus, enter the funeral parlor to pick out a coffin (er, I mean, casket) for Juliet’s mother (whose untimely death by a whale’s fluke makes for hysterical backstory). Upon their arrival they are greeted by the disconcertingly saccharin Lilly Valley (Julie Anne Brand is phenomenally peculiar) who watches her customers closely, and spouts more about coffins, caskets, cremation and diamonds from deceased’s ashes than we might ever have hoped to learn. In the end, the bickering couple goes to a place we might never have expected (or did we?) – you’ll have to catch this uproarious piece to find out where!

The evening ended with “Bottled Up” – a story where real-life and fiction oddly merge. Written and co-directed by seasoned writer Pat O’Connor along with co-director Carol Mark (“Bent Wings”) a literally fallen “Aladdin” actor finds himself facing a real genie in a bottle. The sassy, retired Giselle (Kim Bova of “Bent Wings”) and frustrated George (Jeff Pliskin who made it back to RTB after 12 years) engage in some verbal fencing rife with quippy barbs in the very close quarters of Giselle’s well-decorated bottle.

RTB01Neuroscience research shows that people’s attention spans are growing shorter and shorter in our digital age – a world filled with 140-character tweets, six-second Vines, and one- to 10-second snapchat stories. Even if you love full-length theatrical productions in spite of it all, if you’ve never had the opportunity to take in one-act plays, not only are they are a sign of these times, but they can be sweet little morsels to savor. And when grouped together, there truly is something for everyone. The Ridgefield Theater Barn thoroughly succeeded in reining in some of the best local talent, set in an utterly delightful atmosphere, all without the drive to the big city. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store – mainstage here we come!

 

He Said:

There was a time when 10-minute plays were a tough sell. At one point, the Actors Theatre of Louisville was the major outlet for 10-minute plays. In 1981, everything changed when MTV changed mainstream programming from 60- and 30-minute shows to two-minute music videos. This diminishment of content length continued until present day where six-second videos reign supreme among the younger generation on platforms like Vine.

Today, 10-, 15-, and 20-minute pieces are all considered one-acts. Pillow Talking had the rare opportunity of interviewing Robert Patrick (read our interview with Robert Patrick) who was one of the pioneers in exploiting the 10-minute play and creating what we know today as “Off-Off-Broadway.” Having produced, directed, and written numerous one acts with my writing partner and wife, Stephanie, we tend to be very discerning. Indeed, we have seen a lot of esoteric, obtuse, inexplicable, and downright awful one-act plays.

RTB1I am thrilled to report that such was not the case attending The Ridgefield Theater Barn’s “An Evening of One-Acts 2016.” The evening consisted of nine one-acts ranging from 10- to 20-minutes in length; five in the first act and four in the second act. While theatre critics always can find fault with the best of plays, all nine one-acts offered something for everybody. As a whole, it stood up to the theatre’s own hype:  “A Night of Laughter, Reflection…and Fun!”

One of the longest pieces (although it didn’t feel that way by far) was “Bent Wings,” written and directed by Carol Mark and featuring Steve Bennett, Kim Bova, Christopher Griffin, and Paulette Layton.  The play follows two warring (but loving) brothers as children and then in heaven. Some things never change, even in heaven, and the brothers are forced to face their differences as well as their true feelings for each other. The play was simply wonderful. Take “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sprinkle “Heaven Can Wait” and add a pinch of “Step Brothers” and you end up with something like “Bent Wings.” It is both a cautionary tale and a parable rolled into one…and, more importantly, it was hysterically funny.  Steve Bennett and Christopher Griffin are perfectly cast as the sparring brothers (I cannot believe that this was Griffin’s debut on the boards – he is a natural). Veteran entertainer Kim Bova was hilarious as the golf-playing senior angel Dominique in “Heaven Light” (I was reminded of Buck Henry in “Heaven Can Wait”). And a special shout out must go to Paulette Layton who stole a scene or two as the clerk (and she is one helluva set dresser—no pun intended).

Another longer play was “The Rub,” a nifty, high-concept piece combining elements of “Dreamscape” and “Inception” with a dash of “When Harry Met Sally.” Written by Albi Gorn and directed by Sarah Michaels, the play blurs the line between dreams and reality. Patrick Kelly and Michele Leigh are spot-on as the officer workers who share each other dreams and allow the audience to vicariously experience an office – I mean dream – romance. Although primarily a comedy piece, the play works on deeper levels demonstrating why men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

RTB003Dark humor permeates “Welcome to the Casket Club,” written and directed by Jocelyn Beard. It is a guilty pleasure for sure, making you laugh at such moribund things as coffins, caskets, and death by whales. Kimberly Marcus and Michael Wright were perfectly paired as the distracted and dysfunctional couple shopping for a coffin – I mean casket at the Valley Funeral home.  From the first mention of the mile-high club, you knew where it was going to end up, but it was still engaging to see how they were going to get there. Julie Anne Brand was positively charming in a quirky and weird way as Lilly Valley, the coffin – I mean casket salesperson.  Her mere presence could steal scenes. And the Craigslist and eternal gem references were priceless.

RTB005“Hark the Cellos,” also written by Jocelyn Beard and directed by Steve Boockvor, examines in a comedic way the ravages of time on a long-term love affair. Peter Haynes and Valerie Huegel demonstrate their chemistry as Betram and Alice, participants in an eighteen-year love affair. Stefanie Rosenberg was spot-on as the wisecracking, side-kick Marty whose “Psycho” impersonation was “scaringly” funny.  Special shout-outs also must be given to Hansel and Gretel – the two wieners – sorry, dachshunds. Although they were unseen, their presence was felt.

Veteran stage actor Anthony Barresi, Jr. and Andrew Rose served as the perfect point-counterpoint competing dads over their children’s entries in a school science fair. Barresi channels Sonny Corleone as Vince, the Mafioso, bully dad who tries to intimidate Scott (Andrew Rose) and talk him into having his daughter to take a “dive” in the competition. Written by C. J. Ehrlich and directed by Cheryl Ann Boyd, both the dialogue and direction were tight and on the mark. I loved the subtle “Godfather” theme playing in the background, too.

One of the shortest pieces was “Bottled Up,” a take-off on “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Aladdin,” written by Pat O’Connor and co-directed by Carol Mark and Pat O’Connor. Kim Bova shows her acting chops by going from the heavenly angel in “Bent Wings” to the “Bottled Up” retired genie (who also is a Rat Pack fan with a special crush on Dean Martin). She channels Sofia Vergara to verbally fence with new roommate George (played by Jeff Pliskin). Both Pliskin and Bova are evenly matched and provide a Sonny and Cher-type of chemistry.

An interesting piece was “Apples and Oranges,” written by Barry Koplen and Directed by Sarah Michaels.  A love affair between gentile and Jew is humorously portrayed via metaphor in the attraction between a young Jewish man convincingly portrayed by John Stevan and a young Christian girl also convincingly portrayed by Lauren Carson.

Chris Durang’s “The Actor’s Nightmare” and shades of “Birdman” came to mind when watching “The Opening,” a devilishly engaging tale especially for theatre insiders. Written by David Taylor (who is in his nineties!) and directed by Ginny Ruggieri, “The Opening” takes a hard, but satirically funny look at fame, acting and show business. The ensemble cast of Sam Bass, Kerry Cooper, Eileen Fickes, and Lori Franzese are an absolute pleasure to watch.

Last but certainly not least was “That’s Amore!” written and directed by Constance George and featuring LeeAnn Miller and Robin Provey who find that they have too much in common. Condense the film “The Other Woman” and cast two capable actresses like Miller and Provey and you have the premise for “That’s Amore!”

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My wife and I know how hard it is to produce one short one-act play. We produced three ourselves (which we wrote, cast, and directed– you can see some of our work on our new You Tube Channel) over this past summer. To produce nine of them at one time in one place and have them resonate with an audience is indeed a Herculean task. Countless kudos should be given to Creative Producer Cheryl Ann Boyd for assembling these satisfying plays in one venue.  Happy 5oth Anniversary to the Ridgefield Theatre Barn – here’s to many more to come!

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Stephanie & Wayne

About Stephanie & Wayne

Stephanie is a journalist, writer, editor, and has had several hundred articles published in various newspapers and magazines, many of which still are available online under “Stephanie Lyons Schultz”. She has a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology and was a practicing psychotherapist. She currently is a professor of psychology at WCSU and NVCC in Connecticut. Wayne is an Emmy-Award winning writer, producer, and director. He has produced many programs and documentaries that have appeared on television, and have been distributed to schools, libraries, and home video. Wayne also is a practicing attorney with a Masters degree in Law from NYU. In addition, he is a professor of communications at WCSU. Together, this recently wed couple write, produce, and direct as many of their stage, screen, and TV projects as they can with a full house -- their combined brood of seven! Some of their work has been featured this summer and fall off off Broadway; other work currently is under option. They hope to continue to promote more of their projects in the coming months! Feel free to write whatever comments you like! We want your feedback!