Reporting from The Page-to-Stage Festival: ‘5 Plays’ from Catholic University of America by Leslie Weisman

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The Catholic University of America (CUA) presented five readings of new plays on Saturday afternoon.

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Circulation by Robert Montenegro

Language lovers who like their grammar lessons steeped in scatology and schoolboy humor will revel in CUA’s 10-minute two-character playlet, which also features vaudevillian verbal patter (how many possible ways are there to try to say “synecdoche”?) and good-natured ribs aimed at the immigrant co-worker whose hit-or-miss command of English hits the sweet spots. The epiphany for this contemporary Abbott and Costello-like colloquy is Chase’s close encounter in the men’s room with a heavily robed friar, which leads to the pressing question: How do they do their . . . er . . . business in public places?

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Soldier W by Kathleen Cole Burke

What do you do when your best friend, having experienced the mind-shattering trauma of war as a soldier in Iraq, shows up, near-catatonic, at your door, and refuses to leave? For Page, it’s a question that will simmer urgently beneath the dozen deceptively spare scenes of this penetrating look into the impact of war away from the battlefield; more to the point, its crushing collateral damage—mental, emotional, and spiritual—on those who wait.

The relationships between the three characters—Page, Will, and Will’s brother Peter—are as volatile as Will initially is inert. The powerful moral and emotional obligation Page feels is compromised by an ironic resentment at the injustice of it all: Will had promised to come back and be there for her. Peter, meanwhile, remarks that Will never once asked how he was doing whenever he (Will) would call from Iraq.

While not at all lugubrious—Page in particular is infused with a stamina and intensity that drives her to almost superhuman endurance—the atmosphere is suffused with a dark inevitability. At one point, Page says to Will—who never acknowledges her presence; never even blinks—that she asks God every night to unite them in dreams as they are not in waking life. In the end, that hope, or a hope like it, may be the only thing that keeps any of them able to get through the long days they awaken to.

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Why You Shouldn’t Have Sex in a Car by Amanda Zeitler

Another alternately, intermittently witty, hilarious, groan-inducing 10-minute colloquy, this one involving a couple who find themselves in the slammer on Valentine’s Day after they’re discovered by the local gendarmes in flagrante backseat delicto.  Fidelity not being his strong suit, Matt further inflames Cece by refusing to put the damn phone down trying to contact his girlfriend as they cool their heels in the local pokey. This will not—trust me—end well.  But it’s a pip watching it get there.

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Prufrock adapted by Teri Gilmor; based on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

Meant to be a musical (whose score is being written), this expansion of Eliot’s  “drama of literary anguish” offers an adaptation of theatrical artfulness. James, hopelessly besotted with Elizabeth, is in deep despair: she’s about to be married. There is, however, a glimmer of hope: she wants to see him first. Ah! The intimate little places he might take her. What to do, what to do?

Fortunately, James has an attractive Germanic maid named Marta who’s able to calm his nerves and help him see what he must do: invite Elizabeth for tea. And so the preparations—measured out, not in coffee spoons but in figurative saucer spills—begin.

Upper-class British to the bone with ineluctable touches of feyness and poshness coupled with a nervous determination which would feel quite at home in a Coward play, James is hopeful and youthful despite his advancing years, and finds himself falling headfirst into the scenario he’s advanced to Marta: that she play Elisabeth, so that he might practice in advance what he’s to say to her.

Caught up in the excitement of the moment, James envisions the rapturous embrace in which he and E will be wrapped upon her arrival, and exuberantly plants a moist one on the surprised kisser of his dutiful maid. Who’s secretly been measuring out coffee spoons of her own—and can hardly believe the cream that’s suddenly plopped into her cup.

Elizabeth’s a pill (“I hate coffee,” she tells him when he lovingly speaks the famous line to her. “It dries out my skin”) and James slowly begins to see that the simple, devoted Marta, whom Elizabeth haughtily dismisses both literally and figuratively, just might be a preferable—not to mention available—partner. Who, truth be told, may not get the poem a whole lot better than the lofty Elizabeth.

Which may matter a whole lot less than Eliot devotees might have wished: when, midway through the play, James and Marta take to the ivories, joyfully singing and playing together without a care in the world, class and privilege cast aside like so much spilled coffee, suddenly, surprisingly yet somehow fittingly, the two of them make beautiful music together.

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Life Intercepted by Robert Montenegro

“I was born to be a fullback,” asserts the strapping young Zachary with immutable confidence, immediately after cavalierly rattling off a litany of his physical and intellectual defects. But—what’s happened?  Here he lies in the hospital, having been tackled by a behemoth or three, which he thinks is bad till he gets to the Eternal Waiting Room, where he falls into the clutches of the Archangel Muriel, who has a bone or three to pick with Upper Management.

Bitching royally and hilariously about her workload, which has increased exponentially since the saints went on strike after free will charged the Pearly Gates, Muriel is the mirror opposite of the sweet, hopeful Matilda who’s one sandwich short of a picnic, but someone you’d nonetheless like to take out on one. And who, unlike Muriel, would gladly go: she likes humans, who are the source of never-ending tsuris to Muriel.

In a sidebar, Joan of Arc stops by, declaiming her innocence and the injustices done her, with incisive, slice ‘n’ dice street smarts and savvy, 21st-century slanguage, and demanding a recount. Zach, too, thinks he got a raw deal, and presses for a chance to go back and do it all different this time. What would happen if we had that second chance—if we could do it all again?

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Bite Me by Amanda Zeitler

In this 10-minute romp through aquatic chompville suburban style, Sean X. Shark seeks to sign up for swimming lessons at the local pool. Denied admission by the guard, he threatens a lawsuit charging “speciesism,” slyly adding that he’s a lawyer. (Bada-bum.)

The guard is less than sympathetic: his sister was actually killed by a shark. And he—cue the guilt music—introduced them. Yes; they were a couple. How can one of Sean’s species hope to find acceptance from a man with this history?

Witty script, acted, as all of these plays and playlets, with great skill. And ending, as did they, with food for thought.  (If this last one, a bit—just potentially, mind you—a bit more. . . er . . . literally.)

BegOpbannerLet’s hope CUA’s Department of Drama will bring these five plays to the Hartke, or another DC-area theater, in the not-too-distant future.