Short scripts, not short shrift — ‘Sudden Theatre’ packs full-length play’s punch in 1-act packages

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Chriss Erwin, Heather Swanson and Kathleen Knowlton are the three witches, with a twist, from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in the one-act play “Macbeth Mixed Up.”

Redoubt Reporter

A one-act, by basic definition, is shorter than a full-length play. Ergo, less than a full-length play, right?

In some regards, that’s true. One-acts are typically pared down in staging, costuming, props, sets and the rest of the technical pomp and circumstance of theater. And shorter in length can mean less scenes, fewer characters and not as many side stories or secondary plots to explore.

But truncated doesn’t mean that audiences are shorted on what’s truly important to the quality of a play — an interesting story, compelling characters, engaging dialogue, suspense, emotion, humor and surprise. All that can come in the smaller package of the one-act format.

So, less than in time, yes. But when done well, one-acts can offer a more powerful experience, with all the

Ian McEwen and Jessica Bookey practice a scene from “A Brief Pause,” in which two shy sweethearts narrate their own meeting.

entertainment of theater concentrated in a fraction of the time.

“With the 10-minute, 15- or 20-minute shows, you’ve got to pack in the introduction, middle and conclusion just like a full-length play, and the audience has to be able to move with you through that,” said Ken Duff, director of one of the offerings in Kenai Performers’ “Sudden Theatre” collection of one-acts being performed this weekend and next in Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.

“To be able to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time is amazing,” said Donna Shirnberg, who is acting in two of the one-acts.

Marc Berezin also is acting in multiple shows, as well as directing one titled “A Brief Pause.”

“One of the things I like about ‘Brief Pause’ is all the elements were there in a few short minutes — it was a complete play and it was able to stir me in under 10 minutes,” he said.

As with many directing endeavors — particularly one-acts — the amount of time that goes into choosing a script can far surpass the performance time.

“Reading all the damn shows you have to go through takes a long time until one hits you,” Duff said.

But when it hits, one-acts can hit hard, whether the target is the head, heart, funny bone or some combination of all

Kathleen Knowlton, left, and Jessica Bookey rehearse “Marriage After Death.”

three. In this case, all but one of the selections aim for humor, though often with some emotional content slid slyly by.

“Ignition Switch,” by Samuel Post, is an encounter between a mechanic and a doctor’s wife in a 1940s garage that is charming and awkward, silly and sincere. “Is It Me?” by T.D. Morinelli, peeks inside the thoughts of two women sizing each other up as they vie for the same job. It’s a quick vignette, but there’s a lot going on in those seemingly collected heads. Both are directed by Sally Cassano-Archuleta, with Shirnberg cast in both.

“I like the opportunity to do a variety of characters in a short amount of time,” Shirnberg said. “I love both the characters. I like being different characters. In one I’m nice, except I do have one kind of mean line. The other I get to be mean. I like being mean.”

“You do a good mean,” offered Berezin, the mechanic in “Ignition Switch.”

“I’m working on it. It’s been a process,” she said.

Berezin is directing “A Brief Pause,” by Greg Cummings, of an unusual meeting between potential, but shy, sweethearts in the park.

“I liked it because it was so unconventional. I’ve never seen a piece that was actually narrated by the actors. That just attracted me to it, and they (Ian McEwen and Jessica Bookey) do it so well,” he said.

Larissa Notter is directing “Marriage After Death,” positing the prickly situations that could arise if life’s entanglements follow into the afterlife.

In Terri Burdick’s “Macbeth Mixed Up,” by Wade Bradford, fans of Shakespeare might think they know what toil and trouble is bubbling, but they know not the wicked humor that this way comes.

A radio drama departs a bit from the standard acting format, with performers voicing their characters as well as creating the sound effects that punctuate the storyline. But the biggest departure from comedy comes from Duff’s choice of “The Door,” by Paul Elliott.

“That’s the kind of show that I like to direct. I like dramas. I like a social point to be made, to shock the audience to

Kristin Mitchell rehearses a scene from “The Door,” the one dramatic offering in this year’s “Sudden Theatre” presentation of one-act plays from the Kenai Performers.

some degree. Often, if you look at the venues here, comedy reigns, and we don’t do a lot of very hard-hitting dramatic pieces, so I always try to do that,” Duff said.

The story demonstrates the emotional toll to families from a real social problem facing communities today, that young people are being killed for being themselves.

“I think the social issue of prejudice moving to the point of bodily harm and murder is inexcusable, and I think we tend to overlook it and not make a point of saying ‘This is not acceptable,’” he said. “At the end I think it really makes the point that we can not turn our back on this.”

The overall “Sudden Theatre” show will still run the length of a standard play, with a 15-minute intermission breaking up the seven one-acts, but it gives more opportunities for involvement, as a one-act is prepared on an accelerated time frame.

“I like the fact that it’s opportunities for people who haven’t directed or acted to dip their toes in the water,” Shirnberg said.

“And it’s not too terrible a rehearsal commitment, or performance commitment, but you get all the fun out of acting or directing. Well, a shorter version of all the fun of acting or directing,” Berezin said.

“Sudden Theatre” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 and 18, at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors. The show is rated PG-13 for language and content, and children are not advised to attend. Advance tickets are on sale at Curtain Call Consignment Boutique in Kenai, River City Books and Triumvirate Bookstore in Soldotna, and online at www.kenaiperformers.org.

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