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Review: Silver Spring Stage 2017 One Act Festival, Weekend Two

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Silver Spring Stage kicks off its fiftieth season with a festival of one-act plays showcasing homegrown writing and acting talent and the can-do spirit of the best of local theater. Though no stated theme unites the selections for a given weekend, weekend two’s plays taken together pose interesting “what if?” questions.

The first of this weekend’s offerings imagines what precisely happened to Amelia Earhart after her plane went down. Directed by Renana Fox, Queen of the Air: The Last Transmissions of Amelia Earhart by Mark Scharf places Earhart (Erica Smith) on Gardner Island with her navigator, Fred Noonan (Mickey MacIntyre). Earhart, badly injured and frantically attempting to contact help, hallucinates dialogue with her husband, George Putnam (Jack Wassell). Smith’s Earhart is plucky and energetic, especially considering she has just endured a plane crash and head injury. Her radio transmissions from the downed plane reach a young girl in Florida listening on her family’s home radio set.

When the girl (Sadi Alao) tells her family what she has heard, she is not believed, though she has presumably enough information to get Fred and Amelia rescued. It’s an interesting concept, though frustrating to watch. (How many books and movies would be 75 percent shorter if the adults just believed the kids?) The girl speaks in monologue delivered to the audience, and despite some expressive blocking between Amelia and the girl, it’s not quite enough to unite the two threads of the play.

Bryce Monroe and Jae Lee in The Rothko. Photo by Harvey Levine.

As is the hallmark of a one-act festival, the sets are spare to easily transition between plays, leaving much of the atmospheric work to the lighting and sound design. Here, the lights smoothly move from the reality of Gardner Island to the girl’s living room to the hallucinated scenes between Amelia and George. The sound design of Amelia and Fred wading to and from their downed aircraft on a reef and the crackly radio transmissions do much to add to the atmosphere.

From the fantastical imagining of a historic event to an extremely relatable moment, we have Compos Mentis by Marilyn Millston, which presents an older couple being strong-armed into a retirement community by their kids. Robert and Alese Langford are about to be consigned to said community and have but their final interview with a social worker before they are accepted. We find the wife, Alese (Susan R. Paisner), meeting with the social worker (Felicity Ann Brown) and presenting a variety of undesirable traits – lying about a twin sister, paranoia, and even insisting the KGB might still be after them. But when she heads out to the waiting room to talk to her husband, we learn they are in on it together in an effort to stay in their family home.

In the evening’s stand-out comedic performance, Nick Sampson is more than game to play along, even trying to convince his wife he’s losing his mind. Director Jim Roberson takes a simple but relatable premise and brings comedic nuance to make it real and specific to the characters.

The Rothko by Nicholas Thurkettle poses an interesting question: what is art, and who gets to decide? The play, directed by Gregory Ford, assisted by Bryce Monroe, centers on a Man (played in Saturday’s performance by Bryce Monroe) who has been moved to kick a thirty-million-dollar Rothko painting in a museum and is being held in an empty room, save for a rolling chair, by an older security guard. Despite having committed a criminal act of vandalism, the man is calm and even bemused by his situation. This is in contrast to the near apoplectic museum director (Caity Brown) who wants to know why he did such a thing. His answer amounts to little more than “the painting made me do it.” He is also confronted by the curator, played by Jae Lee, who explains in painstaking detail what must be done to the painting to restore it and how the man’s actions personally hurt him. With an empty stage, the actors are left pacing and rolling around in the chair as they discuss art and its intersections with emotion and commerce. This, with some expressive though ultimately awkward lighting transitions make for a visually bumpy ride.

Sweet Dreams by Tony Pasqualini wonders about a future in which an actor can be replaced by a hologram real enough to interact with human actors. Directed by Jeff Mikoni, the play begins with some light comedy, but it quickly takes a turn to some deep philosophical waters navigating the confusing territory of empathizing with technology. It is an intriguing question and the actors give little away about the surprising resolution in their portrayals. We learn about the backstory of the Lead Actress, played by Marnie Kanarek, in the dramatic performance of the evening, as she serves as a proxy for the audience. She converts from skeptic to believer as she connects with the AI brought in to play the leading man in a romantic drama (Diego Maramba). The director character, played with confidence by David Dieudonne, turns from merely cocky to downright creepy in a believable turn. As this performance ends, we are left wondering whether machines can suffer and are worth our sympathy, no small task for a one-act play.

Daniel Riker and Emily Gibson in Death by Poinsetta. Photo by Harvey Levine.

The final one-act, Death by Poinsettia, written by Dwayne Yancey and directed by Helen Aberger, deals with that comedic chestnut of holiday suicide attempts. Caroline (Emily Gilson) has resolved to kill herself by eating a poinsettia on a live webcast and has invited her entire office over for a party which she believes will result in the discovery of her dead body. However, one awkward coworker, Dwayne (Daniel Riker), shows up well before Caroline reaches her desired result. Caroline comes off as irritated and angry rather than abjectly miserable, but Dwayne lends vulnerability to the encounter with some sweet moments between the two.

Silver Spring Stage’s one-act festival is a grab bag of funny, moving, and thought-provoking theater from local talent. The final weekend is sure to be more of the same.

The final weekend of the festival is August 25-26, featuring Muse by Rachel Teagle, One Click Away by Dean Fiala, Stay by Dagney Kerr, A Womb with a View by Rich Orloff, and Death and the Beatles Fan by Stephen Kennedy.

Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

The Silver Spring Stage 2017 One-Act Festival plays through August 27, 2017 at Silver Spring Stage in the Woodmoor Shopping Center – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through August 27, 2017. Tickets, may be purchased online.

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