Acorn performs ten plays by Maine writers

Ups and downs in new works
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 27, 2012

theater_playfest_On
ON Heading to New York, on stage and in real life.

This year, the ten short plays of Acorn Productions' 11th Annual Maine Playwrights Festival, chosen from more than 50 submitted to this year's open call, tends toward the dark: it includes specters of AIDS, the economic downturn, child abuse, and death by wild animals. But the lineup is also tempered with comedy, slapstick, and over-the-top characters. The Festival runs in two alternating five-play schedules, at the St. Lawrence, between April 26 and 28, and once again culminates in the third annual 24-Hour Play Festival on Sunday, April 29.

Schedule A opens with a slap-happy look at Freudian therapy run amok with logical fallacies and opportunism, in a script by David Vardeman called A Depressed Childhood, directed by Stephanie Ross. In it, the heavily accented Doctor Zorg (Cory King) harangues his patient, Josie (Cynthia Eyster), about the source of her fears of elevators and stairwells. The script has some fun at the expense of elliptical thera-speak ("We often want the opposite of what we don't say."), but mostly relies for its laughs on piling on the ridiculous. It would pop more with a little less exposition, in the last reveal, of the Doctor's true purposes.

From this jokey start, childhood trauma as a subject takes a nose-dive into the most harrowing of the line-up, Patricia Mew's He Touched Me. Deanne (MK Spain), directed by Michael Levine, a young woman sitting amid trash, and probably suffering from post-partum depression as well as more repressed traumas, is visited by three archetypes of bad influence — a mother (Kathy Hooke), a nun (Beth Chasse), and a cheerleader (Amanda Painter). There's a lot going on: the audience is barraged with one horrific revelation after another, and it seems to have several possible endings. The script is best at its most lyrical and figurative ("No more knocking down walls," says the mother. "Write that down."), and I wish it had stopped well short of the final, most disturbing, most literal, and most graphically rendered horror, and instead just gestured toward it.

Things get lighter and less Expressionistic in It's Just Not Polite, a study of class and economics on a Maine island, by Laurie Brassard: Emily (Kara Haupt) is working as a caterer for a wealthy family when charming Spencer (Jesse Leighton) seeks to hide out in the kitchen with her, debating issues of work and wealth. These characters have great and engaging potential, and their dialogue is sharp; I'd like to see them further fleshed out, so they're kept from feeling like stand-ins for social positions. Many in the audience might foresee the final reveal about the young man; it might better serve as a plot turn that brings Emily and Spencer into closer confrontation and understanding.

After an intermission, Schedule A resumes with the enigmatic menace, desire, and comic punctuation of A Road That Happened To Be Broken, by Jefferson Navicky (in full disclosure, a colleague and friend) and directed by Stephanie Ross. To celebrate the birthday of Reggie (Cory King), his sensual, nervous lady, Racine (Beth Chasse) is planning to buy him "a piece" from the powerful Bernard King, which excites both even as it raises their dread. There's great dramatic movement in this short script, as it rises and falls from ominous to sexy to slapstick around its one mystery touchstone, this "piece": By never fully revealing it, Navicky's elegant script keeps the focus on the yearnings and fears unfolding around an all-encompassing object of desire, and does it with the force of allegory or fairy tale.

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