‘Shorts in a Bundle’ at Fells Point Corner Theatre by Amanda Gunther

THREE AND A HALF STARS
No rules, no voting, just six new short plays featured as a continuation from the 10×10 this past summer. Plays that caught the eye of the judges but just didn’t quite make it for one reason or another, are now here tied together as Shorts in a Bundle at the Fells Point Corner Theatre. Continuing their season of many short shows, it’s a brief look at new works from playwrights all over the country, including two Baltimore area playwrights.

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Skylab
Written by Ty DeMartino and Directed by Lance Lewman, this short piece of theatre isn’t exactly a fully formulated work, even for a short play. It’s a  singular monologue performed by a talented young actor, Benjamin Elzey. Taking place in 1979 at the time of the “sky is falling” crisis with the skylab space station, a young boy named Jay (played by Elzey) discusses his life in starts as it relates to being an 11-year-old growing up in Catholic school without his mother in the picture.

DeMartino’s writing includes a great deal of repetitious phrases and repeating, though his central focal points are clear. His use of humor, particularly when it comes to explaining the young character’s approach to Catholicism, is a dependable device to deliver his message of confusion in the adolescent mind. Lewman’s direction of Elzey creates a concise picture; the young kid is constantly pacing, constantly in motion and diving under his makeshift fall-out bunker that he’s constructed from his mattress and box spring. Elzey, as the young paranoid character, does an exceptional job with the verbose text and delivers it without issue. The piece would be better served as an excerpt from a larger piece as DeMartino fails to draw any real conclusions from the monologue.

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Out From Under With Mary

Diane (Amy Mulvihill) and Mary (Terri Laurino) in Out From Under With Mary. Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

Diane (Amy Mulvihill) and Mary (Terri Laurino) in Out From Under With Mary. Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

Written by Chris Shaw Swanson and Directed by Richard Barber, this piece is a simple and sweet two-person scene that does function as a fully formulated short play. Taking place in a methadone clinic, two unlikely strangers share their stories with one another. Swanson’s character development is astounding for the short amount of time in which the audience is presented with Mary (Terri Laurino) and Diane (Amy Mulvihil). There are layers of subtext built into the piece that reaches a deeper vein of conversation for these two women, making the work evocative and thought-provoking. Swanson’s use of exotic vocabulary words is an intriguing device that adds further layers to Mary’s character.

Barber does an exceptional job with keeping the blocking simple; just three chairs and letting the actors play with the closeness of their spatial relationships. Mulvihill as the ‘normal’ person in the clinic is nervous and on edge, teetering at her wits end, making for a convincing unfortunate situation. Laurino, as the junkie character, is fiercely present and has the mannerisms, speech patterns and body language of a paranoid junkie refined to a science. Touching moments of emotional vulnerability are shared between them, making the story that much more endearing.

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Be The Hunter
Written by Tom Coash and Directed by Mark Steckbeck, this play feels incomplete. Coash has plucked up a scene that doesn’t even feel like it’s from a larger work; it feels more like an acting-class exercise in seeing who can get the other character in the scene to yield first. While the concepts are present they need to be further fleshed out for this piece to function as a plot. Revolving around two buddies home in Pennsylvania out hunting, the crux of the situation boils down to one wanting the other to shoot him so that he doesn’t have to return to active military duty because he opposes the war.

Director Mark Steckbeck guides the actors playing Bobby (Mike Smith) and Quint (Tim Slack) to play the scenes at the top of their lungs whenever their characters are meant to be angry, which is a disservice to Coash’s writing. To their credit, Smith and Slack are engaging when they are hollering into each others faces during moments of conflict. However, they start at the top of their emotional range and have no where to build to from that point

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Road Trip 
Written by Cullen Baker and Directed by Kate McKenna, this zany little snippet functions well as a short play, a brief glance into the dysfunctional life of an average family attempting to take a vacation in the car. With three cloyingly sweet, monotonous super freaks as the mother, father, and young son, the wayward sarcastic gothic daughter only adds to the humor.

Baker’s writing is concise, the jokes present without being redundant. The ideas are fully formulated with a beginning, middle, and end; there’s even a lesson to be learned: no matter how dysfunctional your family, at the end of the day they’re still your family and you still need to love them. McKenna’s direction keeps the overall pace of this performance moving, a flash of a show that is amusing and quick. Kit Flaherty shines as the snippy Madison, really laying into the stereotype of the eye-rolling, outcast misunderstood teenage daughter of the ‘Stepford-style’ family. Terri Laurino as the mother and Ron Zyna as the father make an equally entertaining effort at being phony happy to the point of irritation. A well-composed piece with everyone in the right place; this is second best of the six.

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Going Off Line

Tom (Steve Ferguson) in 'Going Off Line.' Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

Tom (Steve Ferguson) in ‘Going Off Line.’ Photo by Ken Stanek Photography.

Written by Jason Odell Williams and Directed by Stephy Miller, this play is the best of the six selected. Concise, to the point, and really amusing with a topic that everyone can relate to in this day and age, Williams’ on-point production is a brief narrative in two people trying to go from a blind, on-line setup to meeting online, and naturally problems ensue.

Director Stephy Miller finds the right emotions in her actors, really allowing Tom (played by Steve Ferguson) to build his emotional eruption from the ground up so that when he explodes like a lunatic it feels honest. Ferguson plays the desperate man with a humorous ease; making his character extremely believable. The show is mostly his, with a cute intimate chemistry burbling between himself and Megan Farber, playing Sharon.

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Crabs!
Written by Kevin Kostic and Directed by Richard Dean Stover, this production made absolutely no sense to me. The angle that Kostic was going for; a futuristic sci-fi thriller set in 1957 in Baltimore, did not translate onto the stage well at all. The prospect of mutant crabs invading Baltimore and taking over the population, only to be potentially subdued and put back in their place by a hyper-intensive batch of Old Bay sounds like it has potential on paper but doesn’t work when acted out.

Director Richard Dean Stover’s approach to the piece felt indecisive. The actors were neither playing the scene for truth nor were they playing their roles over-the- top in a campy fashion that could have made the piece work. This indecision and lack of direction ultimately made the play a failure.

With two strong plays and two with very good potential, Bundle Shorts are worth investigating.

Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.

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Shorts in a Bundle plays through November 3, 2013 at Fells Point Corner Theatre—251 South Ann Street in Fells Point, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 276-7837, or purchase them online.

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