WHAT A CROCK: Pickling in Actual Glass.
It's spring, and time once again for Portland’s theatrical equivalent of the farmer’s market — Acorn Productions’ annual Maine Short Play Festival, which showcases a fresh variety of locally-grown productions. Maine playwrights, solicited by Acorn’s open call for manuscripts, submitted new scripts of twenty minutes or less, and the festival’s picks were then culled by a reading committee. Just like the best cukes and zucchinis, these plays are little, and you can sample them through April 7 at the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center.
Directors Harlan Baker, Michael Levine, and Jen Widor have each taken on four plays, which are presented with minimal staging, by local actors. Reviewed here are the four Short Plays directed by Michael Levine — The Marriage, Indians, A Woman Six Inches Taller, and Actual Glass — each of which concerns the vicissitudes of a particular pairing.
Levine’s production of The Marriage, by Josh Harriman, has the advantage of the statuesque Karen Ball, her knowing eyes, and her very watchable limbs. Her Mrs. T is a seductive millionaire, recently widowed in what was ruled a double-suicide, and she itches to reveal herself to Nathan Amadon’s mild but probing young reporter, Don. Harriman’s script introduces a pretty strong archetype in the person of Mrs. T, and the melodramatics of her progressive revelations at first seem to flirt with camp. But the play settles into straight drama, pithily advising us that “love is as complicated as death.” Ball’s performance of Mrs. T’s tropes is rich and Golden-Agey, full of classic languor and withering looks.
In Indians, by John Manderino, the couple in question is far more unlikely, and thus makes for more lively dramatic tension. Jennie Hahn’s Jane, a spinsterish schoolteacher, skittishly takes a train seat next to Kurt Baker’s Young Man, who’s off to a baseball camp where he expects the pros to snatch him up. The two have less than nothing in common, which Hahn and Baker establish entertainingly with their body language. Still, the Young Man hauls her into conversation, bragging about how “the Indians are after him” and setting in play a sustained bit of situational comedy based on mutual misunderstanding. It hits the low comic points a little hard and long, but for the most part the script is fun and sharp, and Hahn and Baker do a great job of exaggerating the awkward fit of their characters.
Jack and Emily (Nathan Amadon and Samantha Kinne) might seem similarly ill-matched in A Woman Six Inches Taller, by David Draheim — he wants a beer and a dog; she wants champagne and caviar — but they’re already married. We witness their discontent at a basketball game, where Jack is absorbed and Emily is bored and pissed off. She has stalked off from their seats when a god-out-of-the-stands comes to her, proposing a series of scenes-within-a-scene to assuage her domestic longings: Dark Stranger (Randall Tuttle) approaches Emily, attracts her, pulls her into the ladies’ room. Wife/girlfriend/maid of dark stranger (depending on whom you ask; Samantha Kinne) berates Emily. Daughter of stranger and/or wife/girlfriend/maid (Olivia Ruhlin, who’s just fantastic) takes Emily in hand, proposes plots. While all this is going on, Jack is telling a basketball-star story in installments, and there are also some charged poetry/ball passes between the couple. Whew! Imaginative stuff, if rather a lot to cohere in twenty minutes.