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Features NYC Features Published 27 July 2011

Short and Sweet

The 36th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival.

Jason Wooden

Taking the Plunge by Gregg Edwards & Amanda Louise Miller

Taking the Plunge, a short musical about suicide on the eve of a wedding, left me completely saturated with joy and delight. Edwards and Miller have crafted a refreshingly light-hearted musical comedy about a groom and the mother of the bride coming together in the most unlikely of circumstances. As the two characters approach to the edge to actually take the plunge, they undoubtedly grow and bond as people. This is exactly what makes this plunge completely worth the jump! –JW 

Dead-Nosed by Oliver Thrun

Is it possible to always be filled with Christmas cheer during the holidays? We’ve all had those thoughts or daydreams when someone is just too darn cheery and you think to yourself “what if I just punched you in the face right now?” The new short play Dead-Nosed by Oliver Thrun is a comedic and dark exploration of that exact sentiment. Only Thrun has eight of Santa’s reindeer conspiring to take out their bright-nosed, sleigh-leading sister! Apparently after Santa asked Rudolph to guide the sleigh that fateful foggy Christmas eve all of the other reindeers did not fall in love with him. During many loud and chaotic scenes that suggest a courtroom, the eight unhappy reindeer scheme and plot the murder of poor Rudolph. Thrun’s writing leans heavily on Julius Caeser and other tragedies to find an inevitable laugh. Sometimes this works in his favor and sometimes it doesn’t. What always works though is the overall gloomy tone of stress and frustration mixed with holiday cheer and love that we all feel during the holidays. –JW

Beautiful Hands by Ean Miles Kessler

Beautiful Hands focuses on making the choice to abandon the safety of the life you know to pursue the possibility of a better life elsewhere. This decision is the dilemma at hand in the relationship between Donnie and Nellie, a young African American couple living in Georgia in the 1930s. Even with the Emancipation Proclamation seventy years in the past, Donnie still finds his family struggling to get by in a world where they can’t seem to win. Donnie tells Nellie that he wants to seek a better life for himself in New York City, hoping that in the North there might be more opportunities. Nellie, however, is hesitant to leave the safety of the life they know and her ties to her family, which still depends on her. As they argue back and forth Donnie paints the picture of his dilemma clearer, taking Nellie’s hands in his own and telling her, “Your fingers look like they’re fifty years old.”

He sees nothing for them in Georgia other than a future spent working themselves to the bone. He tells Nellie of the pain of waking every day and having to humiliate himself by working as a grocery bagger, letting his intelligent mind go to waste. “I don’t want to have to be stupid,” he says. Nellie tries to make plans for them to stay in Georgia and acquire a better quality of life, but it is soon apparent that Donnie cannot be dissuaded. Donnie tells her that this “place is going to kill our kids,” and Nellie finally seems to be persuaded, seeing the sad stretch of desperate life ahead of them and their potential offspring. Ean Miles Kessler has created a powerful script with a central question that is still highly relevant in contemporary life today. The acting ability of both actors also adds believability and empathy to the characters’ struggles. –AU

Chun Li by Camilla Maxwell

The uproariously funny play Chun Li takes place in the waiting room of an STD clinic, where roommates Justin and Kyle are waiting for Justin to receive the results of an STD test. Justin has asked his friend Kyle to come with him for moral support. As they sit wondering, Kyle eyes the gumball machine, wondering out loud why anyone would want to purchase a gumball in an STD clinic, saying “You have an STD, gumball?” As Kyle jokes further he begins to direct his quips at Justin, wondering just how it is he managed to get an STD considering he’s spent every night for the past six months home playing World of Warcraft. “You have an immaculate STD!” he exclaims. “You have the Jesus of STDs!” As Kyle’s prodding increases, Justin finally acquiesces and admits that the person he slept with was in fact Kyle’s 18-year-old sister. Kyle is so overcome with anger that he proceeds to attempt to fight Justin in the style of their favorite video game. “Chun Li, Fight!” he shouts, referencing the play’s title as he pretends to be the young Asian girl character in the Street Fighter video game. Despite being female, Camilla Maxwell authentically captures the dialogue and characterization of geeky male gamers, creating an undeniably hilarious script. The play’s two actors also delivered the lines well, milking every laugh possible from the script. –AU 

The Truth About Christmas by Daniel Pearle (winner)

The Truth About Christmas centers around a fifteen year old girl named Remy whose strange behavior has led to her alienating herself from the rest of her classmates. The play is cleverly staged with Remy sitting at the center of the stage on a table. She is surrounded on four corners by her mother, the daughters of two former friends that tormented her, and her school’s guidance counselor. Together the five women tell the story of the dramatic events that played out, all triggered by Remy’s decision to begin wearing a hijab to school and express an interest in the Muslim religion. While the play is primarily a drama, it ventures into comedy with the vapid, wealthy mothers making such commentary as “she’s probably a lesbian” to explain Remy’s decision to wear a hijab. The mother also attempts to explain away this action as her simply going through a “Muslim phase.” The central drama at the heart of the script is the fact that Remy allegedly set the school’s Christmas tree on fire, disappearing afterward. The school newspaper printed a copy of Remy’s manifesto against Christmas stating that the holiday perpetuates the “persuasive mythology of Hallmark, Walmart, and Best Buy” and that “these white lies deserve to be questioned.” –AU

The Painter by Stacy Osei-Kuffour

The Painter focuses on one young woman seeking retribution for painful events suffered in her past. Having been born and raised in Ghana, she now lives in America and has made a new life for herself. She however has been tormented by the past actions of her cousin, a man she seems to simultaneously love and despise. She meets up with her cousin, whom she refers to as simply “the painter,” telling him she is surprised at how easily he is willing to face the trauma of the past. He tells her he is willing to take responsibility for his actions.

We soon learn that the woman was in love with her cousin and felt the first flutterings of sexual desire for him. He, however, betrayed her love by forcing himself on her and raping her when she was only eleven years old. As the two discuss this secret from the past, he attempts to deny that it was in fact rape, pointing out that she had desired him. She, in turn, argues that she had been far too young to have ever understood any feelings she might have had. She pulls out a revolver and tells him she has come to kill him as retribution. She hesitates and tries to find a way around the murder, but finally both cousins realize that a life must be taken to end the suffering. Osei-Kuffour (who also performed as at the festival) has created a powerful, suspenseful drama. –AU

Pluck and Tenacity by Daniella Shoshan (winner)

Pluck and Tenacity focuses on a fifth grade rap duo who swore as kindergarteners over fruit roll ups to work towards world domination. The play opens with the character Pluck showing his love to a girl through song; he begins with a spirited rap and humorously switches to an overly dramatic ballad. His rap partner, Tenacity arrives and tells Pluck that he doesn’t like his new songs, telling him that that is the “least gangster song I heard.” Pluck tells Tenacity that he doesn’t want to be a gangster; he wants to be a lover. The fact that the two characters are in fact fifth graders is not initially revealed. It comes as a surprise due in part to the adult actors as well as the fact that Tenacity raps in an overtly sexual manner that would seem inappropriate from the mouth of a child. Tenacity attempts to steal Pluck’s love interest, bragging of owning both a bike and having juice boxes in his garage. Shoshan’s humorous script was brought fully to life by the two talented actors performing it. –AU

Bubble and Squeak by Evan Twohy

Bubble and Squeak opens with honeymooning couple Declan (Willy Appelman) and Dolores (Jessica Frey) sitting in detainment in the customs office of an unidentified Eastern European country. They have been sitting in the room for nearly two hours and yet have no idea why they are being held. Declan mentions that the room smells vaguely of cabbages, provoking Dolores to declare her love for the vegetable.

He tells Dolores not to say such things as cabbages are despised in the country due to the fact that during World War II the only food the allies could sneak in was cabbages, causing the citizens to be forced to eat nothing but cabbages for years. The play soon takes an absurd turn when we learn that the reason the couple has been detained is because the police are on the look out for an American couple hiding cabbages in their pants. As the entire country despises cabbages, this is a crime. The couple can either confess and risk death or have a confession beaten out of them. Declan and Dolores escape to a convent where he discovers Dolores has in fact been keeping cabbages in her pants. In order to throw off the authorities he tells Dolores they have to eat every cabbage to destroy the evidence.

As the couple sits between the hay stacks begrudgingly gobbling the cabbages they imagine they are eating exotic dish after exotic dish, imagining every possible food they could devour. As they imagine meal after meal, Dolores is soon met with the realization that they will have to spend their lives together thinking of new meals for dinner night after night. After having eaten so many imagined meals together Dolores can only think of the many more meals ahead of them with sadness, dooming the new marriage. Actors Willy Appelman and Jessica Frey bring the absurd plot to life by believably portraying characters stuck in a somewhat unbelievable crisis. Frey particularly shines as a wife led astray by her own self absorbed desires. –AU

My Name is Yin by Tom Swift (winner)

Playwright Tom Swift was inspired to write My Name is Yin after reading an AP news story about hikers who found 70 pairs of shoes filled with butter in the mountains. Swift retells the story using it as a meditation on art in America, creating a pretentious avant garde artist who also happens to be a bear. Swift dissects the various motivations of those involved in the plot, particularly the journalist who simply wants to feel important and see his name in print. When he mistakenly gets the name and gender of the artist wrong, he is horrified at having to add a correction to the most widely read thing he has ever written. He shows the bear artist creating an homage to the Chinese artist and a female hiker who feels a deep connection to the artist. An outstanding cast as well as an original and zany plot (rooted in real events) create a refreshingly original work. –AU


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Jason Wooden is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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