"Women’s Shorts" at Out of Box Theatre, April 5-13, 2019
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"Women’s Shorts" returns to Out of Box in 2019 with a new slate of short plays written by women, directed by women, and performed by women. The plays are written in a variety of styles, from fluffy silliness to more serious fare. A cast of eight actresses and three directors fill all the acting and directing duties for the eight plays, with a total of 21 female roles.
The production is played on the set used for "Tokens of Affection," with blessedly little stage rearrangement between plays. During intermission, an extra chair is placed around the round dining table stage right and a filing cabinet is moved from one side of an upstage bar to the other. A sofa and triangular coffee table remain in place throughout. A few props are placed here and there, but nothing impedes the flow from one play to the next.
First up is "Lunch with Yaya," written by Mimi "Mimosa" Palmer and directed by Amy Levin. In it, Angela (Jillian Walzer) visits her aged relative Joan (Betty Mitchell) and learns from Nurse Mary (Kate Guyton) that STIs have been affecting the residents of the assisted living home. Joan is unrepentant and determined to enjoy life. Angela is scandalized. It’s silly and fun and bawdy, with memorable props.
Second is Jordan Elizabeth Henry’s "Conditions," starring Bryn Striepe and Lauren Coleman as a lesbian pair battling when Tris (Ms. Coleman) smells her expensive hair conditioner on a very private place on the body of Harley (Ms. Striepe). It’s tightly written, nicely directed by Kayleigh Mikell, and well-acted. There’s a light breeziness to the interaction, but a strain of seriousness that leads to a sadly satisfying ending.
Emily McClain’s loopy "Secret Family Recipes" comes third. In this piece, psychic Madam Christie (Betty Mitchell) is visited by Suzanne (Abra Thurmond) in an attempt to contact her dead sister Irene (Stacy King) to determine the location of a hidden file of heirloom family recipes. Savannah Jones directs the show with a deft touch, letting the light comedy shine.
The first act ends with "Litter-ally Love," a funereal comedy by Keely L. Herrick. Leigh (Lauren Coleman), Bitsy (Kate Guyton), and Georgina (Bryn Striepe) have come together to pay their respects. It becomes clear all too quickly that they are mourning a cat. Director Kayleigh Mikell has obtained a terrific prop for the show, but the material feels slight. Still, the performances are all good.
Bryn Striepe’s "Swans" starts act two on a serious note. Jane (Jillian Walzer) has been given swan mementoes for years, although she has never wanted them, and commiserates with Alison (Stacy King) about the supposed monogamy of swans and human males. Kayleigh Mikell directs the show to highlight both humor and sincerity, revealing this as the strongest writing of the evening.
"Out from Under Mary" follows. This play by Chris Shaw Swanson has homeless Mary (Abra Thurmond) meeting Diane (Bryn Striepe) at a free clinic. Mary is there to escape the rain; Diane has come for a mandated drug test and almost immediately regrets her decision. Ms. Thurmond and director Savannah Jones can’t make Mary’s ramblings ring perfectly true, filled as they are with esoteric words, but the time passes quickly enough.
Third in the second act is Drew Fornarola’s "Family Politics," the most topical of the pieces. Carol (Abra Thurmond), Amanda (Jillian Walzer), and Jane (Kate Guyton) complain about the recent voting selection of sister Cindy (Stacy King) that has driven them apart. This is a fairly grim piece leavened by Ms. Guyton’s inebriated behavior. Director Amy Levin has blocked it believably, but it still leaves a bitter taste.
Last comes Ellie Styron’s "I’m a Bad Bea." The title is a "Golden Girls" reference to the character played by Bea Arthur on TV, and there doesn’t seem to be much more to the piece than these references. Kate Guyton (as Grace) and Lauren Coleman (as Lillian) give nice performances under Savannah Jones’ direction, but this counts as the least memorable of the pieces.
This edition of "Women’s Shorts" is certainly varied in style and tone, and it gives actresses ample opportunities to show their range. Ms. Striepe comes across best, but everyone has a chance to shine. As short play festivals go, it’s par for the course, if a bit bawdier than some.