VOICES CARRY Arruda, Taylor-Roth, and Paolino in Dancing Turtle.
Short one-act plays can come across as trivial, a joke that's all punchline, or as resonant as a pivotal scene from a two-hour drama. The Black Box Theatre, at the Artists' Exchange in Cranston, is presenting its 7th Annual One-Act Play Festival through August 26, and the array is varied so far.
Wave 1, the first of three two-weekend runs, continues through July 29. The plays were selected from more than 200 submissions, the process overseen by Black Box artistic director Rich Morra. For the first time, there are guest directors for some of the shorts.
The opening play sets a lighthearted mood. The Latest News from the Primordial Ooze, written by Rich Orloff and directed by Kate Lester, is about as silly as they get. Barry (Mark Carter) and Marjorie (Meg Taylor-Roth) are two fish zipping about murky depths. But Barry has greater ambitions. With Carter's trademark physical humor (such as a hand occasionally indicating bubbles burbling above him), Barry lets Marjorie in on a little secret: he pulls off a green glove, revealing waggling appendages. "I called them 'fin-gers,' " he proudly tells her. Not only that, he brags that he can breathe air and pops his head up to prove it. Poor Marjorie is going to miss him. She appreciates his once saying that her eyes are so pretty it's a shame he can see only one at a time.
That's followed by a play that manages to be serious without being somber. Chicken and Egg Soup, by Bob Stewart, is directed by Morra (unless otherwise specified, the others below are directed by him). A woman identified only as Mother (Carol Drewes) is freshly out of the hospital, where she has been treated for cancer. She is meeting her daughter, Debbie (Erin Archer), in a food court but, more importantly, also meeting for the first time a son she gave up for adoption when she was 15. Debbie is mostly concerned that her mother sign over the title to her house instead of selling it — Medicare will take care of you again if your cancer returns, she brightly reminds her — but the son, William (Robert C. Reynolds), who grew up to be a successful professor, is kind and considerate. We learn that chicken and egg soup, which they both happen to love at a restaurant there, to the Chinese represents the reuniting of mother and child. Before leaving, the mother learns something far more significant, in a gentle way that doesn't come across as preachy.
Another Mother (Mary Paolino) is featured in Thomas Atkinson's Dancing Turtle. As she is driving to an Appalachian festival with her daughter Molly (Taylor-Roth), the daughter's thoughts are spoken to us by Mary (Corey Lynn Arruda). Molly, you see, can't speak clearly and her limbs are twisted from cerebral palsy; Mary is her internal self. At the festival, Molly becomes fascinated and excited by a Native American turtle dance. What follows could easily become sentimental and mawkish but, between the acting and directing and the restraint of the play itself, pathos is transcended.