POTATOES AREN’T ENOUGH Restrained, and devastating.
Concluding Schedule A is Maureen Ann Connolly's bittersweet, sensitively crafted The Necrology Report, directed by Harlan Baker. As Ursula (Amanda Painter), on a visit to her hometown, helps her mom (Muriel Kenderdine) slice apples for pie, they move through mom's debriefing of the lately dead and into a wistful discussion of aging and change. Connolly's script is rich, warm and intimate, and is moved forward beautifully by the peppery details of their town, its people, and what they both remember and forget.
The second program of Festival shorts opens with a grocery store bromance, Chicken Tonight, by Larry Crane. Michael Levine directs Hal Cohen as a shy and endearing wacko, Arthur, and Randall Tuttle as the straighter-laced Ron, two lonely men who meet in Whole Foods. The play's passes at class consciousness feel a little rote, and Arthur and Ron, despite (or because of) plenty of exposition about their respective lay-offs and divorces, sometimes seem more like vehicles for transcendence than fully fleshed-out characters experiencing it, but the script is sweet in how it leads them to recognition of the need for male friendship.
Sarah Halford's Memories of Rain, directed by Laura Graham, concerns trauma and distrust over three generations: Elderly Dolores (Muriel Kenderdine) wants to reconcile with her disabled daughter Alice (Patricia Mew), who since her divorce has trouble relating to her own son, Richard (Jesse Leighton). Halford has written some beautiful, lyrical dialogue, including about the "expansion" Dolores experiences when her brain shuts down after a stroke. I would favor more of such evocative stuff, and perhaps less of the explicit exposition of who blamed who and who thought what.
The most levity in Schedule B comes in the clever comedy Snowball's Chance in Hell, by Chelsea Cook, and directed by Shawna Houston, in which a demon (Jessica Fratus) and an angel, Snowball (Kara Haupt), are up for the same job. They entertainingly duke out their opposing job-seeking outlooks and opinions about Earth ("Stick with Hell. They've got a better dental plan"), and the script wittily sends up real-life unemployment dynamics — Snowball professes pleasure at the opportunity to get out and help people, rather than "just processing their prayers at a prayer center."
A particularly subtle and interesting play in this evening's lineup is Delvyn Case's Potatoes Aren't Enough, directed by Laura Graham, set in a present-day Kenyan village. Aid worker Peter (Mike Johnson), visits the vegetable stand of two sisters, Simone (Evadne Bryan-Perkins), who is HIV-positive, and Josephine (Gwira Kabirigi), who is pregnant and likely also infected. The script thoughtfully pits the women's personal strength and humor against their helplessness in the face of their culture's men, opposes medicine with the women's faith in prayer, and gives them a flirtatiousness with Peter that's both amusing and disturbing. The play ends on a restrained, interior turn that is quietly devastating.
Finally, Schedule B closes with a show already slated to appear beyond Maine's borders: The cast of David Vazdauskas's sharp, sexy little suspense short, On, directed by Harlan Baker, will take the show on the road to New York. On is set in a New York City loft studio belonging to Charles (Randall Tuttle), where Alana (Kat Moraros) films the "legacy video" of his sick wife, Lisbeth (Patricia Mew). But nothing is quite as it seems, and a slew of Mamet-esque twists ensue in this gleefully soul-less and flashily entertaining little finale.
Megan Grumbling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
11TH ANNUAL MAINE PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL | Produced by Acorn Productions | April 26-29 | at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland | full schedule at acorn-productions.org