The more the merrier seems to be the theme of the sixth annual Black Box Theatre One-Act Play Festival, with the first of two nine-play "Waves" running through August 14 (a second will be staged August 19-28).
Nearly 200 submissions vied for inclusion this year, thus the expansion. The many short one-acts to choose from resulted in a wealth of hits, a pleasant contrast to the mostly misses of last year's 10 playlets.
Only two of the selections are serious in theme, and thereby harder to make work in a short form. The first is the opener, A Winter Place by Kevin Broccoli, a good choice for first position because the assembling audience gets to wonder about a knife sticking out of a butcher block table. John (Alex Rotella) is a butcher and Sister Jo (Erin Archer) is the last survivor of a nearby convent that is closing. Suffice it to say that his going blind isn't the worst problem they face. The other non-laff-riot, Ross Tedford Kendall's Singular of Dice, consists of reporter Garrett (Robert C. Reynolds) interviewing a female contract killer, surly Noelle (Kayla Quirk). The longest of the plays, it holds our interest through the Russian roulette he is made to play and by our curiosity over why she would agree to reveal herself.
In a droll goof on film noir, Cyjoe Barker at the Theatre by Barbara Schweitzer, Christina Mealey is a straightfaced hoot as the prize-winning freelance smarty-pants detective of the title. Chris White doesn't crack a smile either as her detective partner, in a case where the Desdemona of a flustered, pretentious director (Chris Martin) has been strangled for real. Mike Xiarhos is also quietly funny as an actor who can't keep track of how to pronounce "debut."
A couple of absurdist tales show how Existentialism can be fun. Mark Harvey Levine's Scripted has Elaine (Sharon Carpentier) and Simon (Jim Sullivan) waking up one morning to find a script that appears to be accurately predicting their every next word. Will they be shamed — or scared — out of predictability? The other play is explicitly a Beckett spoof, Greg Davis's The Hollow Men, complete with dour T.S. Eliot quotes. Observed by a mime (Alex Rotella) are Winston (Billy Flynn) and Aaron (George Spelvin, a traditional pseudonym, usually for an Equity actor in a non-Equity show). Both are aware of not being actors but rather being characters in a play, similar to the other one-act in their lack of agency. Their wondering about whether they are thinking or just thinking that they are thinking puts them on a mental gerbil wheel that's forgivingly sadistic to watch.
A flight of Kevorkian Airlines is the setting for Final Descent, by Joanne Fayan. A chirpy flight attendant (Meg Taylor-Roth) has given the last parachute — provided to some of those who want to land early — to a man (Tom Chace) who isn't using it, while another passenger (Mari Dias) desperately wants it to bail out. (Don't complain the next time the passenger in front of you won't pull his seat-back up.)
I can't say much about Alex Dremann's Wet Paper Bag, except that it's cleverly written and well-acted (I don't want to give away its twists and turns). A man (Mark Carter) and a woman (Becky Burns) are at a bus stop, where his friendly "Hi!" is greeted with hostile suspicion — so New York City. Is a mugging, or worse, in store?