Planting seeds

Acorn tries out four new local plays
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 24, 2010

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FROM THE READING SESSION Choosing finalists for Acorn’s full production.

For nearly a decade, spring in Portland has heralded the emergence not just of all of us from hibernation, but of playwrights, en masse, from quiet writing rooms. Playwrights need bodies to see their work completed, and Acorn Productions, through its annual juried Maine Playwrights Festival (which runs April 15 through May 1), continues to expand the range of opportunities it offers them (look for the inaugural 24-Hour Play Festival, on May 2). As a prelude to the shenanigans, Acorn this past weekend presented a reading of four plays that were finalists for full production, and included works by Tom Kubasik, Lynn Cullen, Jefferson Navicky, and Jonathan Potter, all directed by Michael Levine.

The first play of the evening, Kubasik's East End Efficiency, is a gritty, sharp-witted treatment of Munjoy Hill bumbling, Tarantino-esque ne'er-do-wells. In rapid-fire, f-bomb-laden exchanges, Sean (Eric Worthley) and Jimmy (Ted Kelleher) break into and raid the pain-meds in an apartment owned by Sean's dad, from whom he's estranged. Sean owes Jimmy money, which Jimmy owes to somebody a lot less incompetent. When Sean's brother Jimmy shows up and rages, the dialogue begins to present a sketch of the abuse-forged family into which Jimmy has stumbled. Though the play could delineate Jimmy's evolving observations with a little more momentum (a need that could also be addressed with full stage direction), it ends with a fine and restrained dramatic intake of breath: the appearance of the much-referenced father, one-on-one with Jimmy, followed by immediate lights-down.

Drugs are a more central catalyst in Cullen's Mr. Quack Comes Back: Just after her husband leaves her for six months in Mongolia, Eve (Jackie Oliveri) rebelliously eats the acid tab that's been mysteriously sent to her by a friend who disappeared a decade ago. In doing so, she comes into conversation with the rather appallingly jolly Mr. Quack (Michael Tooher), the embodiment of the cartoon from her blotter paper. He bounces her back to her youth and a fateful acid-tripping with her missing friend, Joy (April Singley), in whose disappearance Eve gradually concedes her own implication. This play's unity might be strengthened by laying off some of Mr. Quack's annotations (he periodically directs talks to the audience about Albert Hoffman and LSD physio-factoids) and developing in more detail the self-realizations of Eve, but its premise is dynamic.

A protagonist's look inward is drawn with fine lyrical depth in Il Bastardo, by Navicky (in full disclosure, a colleague and friend). When older, worldlier Miranda (Julia Reddy) meets Gretchen (April Singley) for lunch, she isn't expecting her to announce that she's pregnant by an older, gay, and partnered mutual acquaintance. When Miranda seeks relief in a smoke, Gretchen eases into an exquisite, haunting monologue of a pregnancy dream, from eating chocolate and "thick soup with lots of cream" to giving birth, on a raft at sea, to twin, featherless birds. Both writing and direction make strong distinctions between Gretchen's flat diction in her dialogue and the sensuality of her dream-monologue ("nice" is how she describes, to Miranda, her lovemaking); the cadences of her two voices might be even further contrasted, to further heighten the lovely strangeness of her monologue. Il Bastardo is the last of a quartet of short plays, of which the first will appear as one of the Festival's fully produced shows.

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