Dispatch From Day 1 Of The Delray Beach Playhouse’s Playwright Festival

For the period of slightly over a month that this blog has as of yet been in existence, I have not had the chance to report on a theatrical event that I was actively involved in. However, since the first night of the Delray Beach Playhouse’s inaugural Playwrights’ Festival was far too interesting to leave unexamined, I suppose there’s a first time for everything!

The event presented staged readings of a selection of unpublished and unproduced new short plays by local playwrights. Marianne Regan had the massive responsibility of helming the festival and directing nearly 30 actors in staged readings of eight different short plays staged across two performances. Though we convened for only a few rehearsals, I very much enjoyed getting to work with her and with the many other experienced and talented performers involved in the production.

First in the evening’s lineup was Todd Caster’s courtroom thriller Burden Of Proof, in which a young woman named Rhonda Knox is on trial for the cold-blooded murder for her boss. I played key witness Trish Aikens, whose secret relationship with the defendant throws one of many wrenches into the investigation.

I will not, of course offer any opinions on my own performance, but I will say that my castmates certainly held their own as attorneys, a judge, the defendant, and the rest of the eccentric array of witnesses called on for testimony, all of whom were Rhonda’s coworkers at futuristic startup ARTPAT.

There was plenty of humor in the engaging script as well as plenty of suspense. In Caster’s masterful set-up, at least two of the witnesses questioned have plausible motives for the crime themselves, and the slow accumulation of facts and evidence definitely seemed to keep the audience on their toes.

However, I wasn’t entirely sure whether the play’s ending comes across as a genuinely foreshadowed twist or a gimmick chosen mostly for shock value. I also doubt it was entirely realistic, but it certainly drew some big laughs from the audience!

Since I was off-duty as a performer after this first play of the night, I was allowed to retreat to the back of the house for the other three shows of the evening, which was the first time I was able to watch all three in full.

Next up was A Good Night, which was written by Bob Lind and starred John Zambito and Laurie Tanner as a “man” and a “woman” who are revealed to be Santa Claus and his wife. She wants him to retire from his yearly gift-giving duties in order to spend more time with her, and he just wants to keep doing the work he loves. This play contained a few zingers in its dialogue and explored an interesting concept, but the pair’s debate occasionally got a little repetitive and both characters seemed relatively flat.

The work may have been more dimensional if the “Santa Claus” character had been given much of a personality besides his passion for his job or the shrewish Mrs. Claus character had been a little more fleshed out and motivated by something besides her blinding selfishness. As it is, it’s hard to fathom how or why Santa put up with her for their many years of marriage!

After a brief intermission, director extraordinaire Marianne Regan briefly returned to the stage to share some somber news: that Lisa Bruna, one of the playwrights whose work was to be featured that evening, had passed away only the previous weekend. Thus, it was both fitting and a bit heartbreaking that her play, Godwise was probably the highlight of the night.

The play was set in the early 1960s and portrayed the story of a housewife named Connie, well-played by Jill Brown, who gets the shock of her life when her garden-variety dissatisfaction with her adulterous scumbag of a husband is much enlivened by some divine intervention.

Clad in a striking and shimmering black blouse, Victoria Goulet materializes as the Greek goddess Hera after Connie unthinkingly wishes for some heavenly help, and from the moment that she appeared, the charismatic actress sparkled both literally and figuratively.

Hera is uniquely equipped to advise Connie given her own experiences with her famously philandering husband Zeus. She also brings along actor Don Squire as the famous blind seer Tieresias as her sidekick. It’s he who concludes the encounter by predicting the upcoming feminist revolution and letting Connie know about the upcoming advent of no-fault divorce, which will allow her to leave her marriage without her husband’s consent and spare her many of the financial consequences of leaving the union.

The play’s dialogue was both funny and quite insightful; in only a twenty-minute play, Bruna managed to build an affecting arc for Connie and a touching relationship between her and Hera. Especially given such lamentable offstage events, I was more than happy to spend some time in a well-built world where we could count on benevolent celestial forces to have our backs.

Then, in one of those peculiar “acts of god,” the presentation of a short play colored by a real-life tragedy was followed by the performance of a play where death was front and center. Some might have called such a juxtaposition poor taste, especially considering that some of Bruna’s family members were in the audience, but there’s no way anyone involved in the production could’ve foreseen such unusual circumstances. We can’t all be as intuitive as Tiresias!

Miranda Schumes’ Pulling A Carlos takes place at a “funeral” for Rose, whose granddaughter Jesse decided to plan the ceremony in advance after hearing from her grandmother’s hospice workers that Rose would be dead in a week. Everything would have worked out perfectly, if Rose hadn’t failed to kick the bucket!

Schumes aspires to be a television writer, and the zany slapstick of her script definitely wouldn’t have been out of place on many a mainstream sitcom, though it’s hard to tell how it will fare theatrically without seeing its physical comedy enacted in a full production.

Luckily, cast members Dawn Mason and Graham Brown brought more than enough energy and verve to carry the somewhat superficial and occasionally trite script as protagonist Jesse and her best friend Chris, who got some of the biggest laughs of the night when he imitated a Rabbi to conduct this “funeral” at Jesse’s behest.

However, I’d say that the true stars of the show were Joyce Rasmussen as the “deceased” Rose, who makes a splash when she crashes the ceremony, and Victoria Goulet making her second appearance of the night as Rose’s arch-nemesis Betty. The pair’s well-orchestrated bickering was outright hilarious!

Anyhow, it was nice that the evening ended on such an amusing and high-energy note despite the somewhat unfortunate timing. After all, I suppose, when faced with such weighty matters as mortality, sometimes all we can do is joke.

The performance was followed by a short talkback with the writers of Burden of Truth, A Good Night, and Pulling A Carlos; Lisa Bruna’s son also made an appearance to answer questions about Godwise. Feel free to swing by for the second and last show of the festival this afternoon, which will feature four completely different short plays by four other promising area playwrights, though I and quite a few of the other versatile actors featured in Day 1 of the festival will return as cast members. Catch ya after the show, comrades!

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