After a hiatus last year, when the artistic directorship was in flux, the future of the International Women’s Playwriting Festival at Perishable Theatre was in doubt for a while. But the 13th almost-annual event is back in fine style. Each of its three one-act plays has had its own weekend, and now theatergoers may see the three winners — selected from 604 submissions over two years — in one sitting in a four-day closing run (through November 5).
DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE AT EVERY TURN: Dersham and Platt in Falling Up.
With Vanessa Gilbert in charge for her first full season, Perishable is billing itself as “Rhode Island’s Research & Development Theatre.” So these works are still in progress and may be polished up further for the final weekend. At that time an anthology will be on sale containing the final versions of the plays.
Falling Up, by Trista Baldwin and directed by Laura Kepley, is a rare event on the popular but overstocked post-MTV-generation short-plays scene around here. It’s a stunningly successful collaboration of first-rate writing, acting, and directing that could serve as the gold standard for what the genre can accomplish.
You’ll laugh, you’ll sigh, you’ll think. Laura and Ed are office drones in a high-rise hive where something has gone terribly wrong — in addition to the everyday, soul-sucking ennui, that is. Near their abruptly evacuated building, they encounter each other in a bar after drinking there all night, separately. The circumstance is fraught with concern, but we don’t know how dire — the looting outside in the streets may simply be because of the blackout, but it may portend The End of Civilization As We Know It.
What separates this from your run-of-the-workshop exercise with two love-starved strangers meeting in a bar is . . . well, everything. There’s delightful surprise at every turn. That hacking Bill the Cat sound Ed makes when Laura introduces herself turns out not to be nervous, nerdy insanity (or not just that) but is an attempt to reproduce the weird mechanical sound they all heard before the power went out. Alexander Platt does droll wonders with the delicious acting opportunities he gets to cook up. For example, Laura is uncertain about whether he has an accent — and so are we: syllables shudder now and then but don’t quite fall apart; sometimes his phrasing is oddly formal (“I do not think I want you to bite me again”).
Uh, yeah. Laura is a piece of work herself, as marvelously created by D’Arcy Dersham. The most brilliant bit of characterization by the playwright is that when Laura fixates on Ed being tall, she goes with it. Not only is he hard and firm and every other obvious innuendo, but she also takes appropriate metaphorical action. There is that teeth-tingling chomp on his arm, for example. To Ed’s further nervous dismay, she starts climbing him. The hilarious sight gag continues until she is chatting amiably, perched on his shoulder.
The worst thing about Falling Up — and it’s nearly unforgivable — is that it doesn’t last long enough. At less than 20 minutes, we’ve just stepped into the opening scene of a compellingly acted (and thereby cleverly directed) world that we’re anxious to explore. Maybe playwright Baldwin plans to eke the rest out to make sure she wins a spot in future Perishable festivals.