Allen’s Alley Returns Highlighting The Unique 24 Hour Play Festival

Scan 123590003It’s been a while since I’ve put together an edition of Allen’s Alley and I’m still planning a follow up on the Dinner Theatre report from a few months ago having put together some reactions of those involved. But today I’m happy to report a huge success for Theatre Lab and their- hopefully first ANNUAL 24 Hour Play Festival. I call it “rehearsed improv” because the plays are written a week in advance and then cast and rehearsed in a 24 hour period before they are put on stage. It makes for some surprising and quite dazzling plays and performances.

A brain child of Theatre Lab’s Artistic Director Ryan Foizey and co-produced by The Player’s Project Theater Company, this concept- though maybe familiar to those who underwent such exercises in college- offers a unique opportunity to the local theatre loving public to see many familiar faces in short plays that are not only new- their brand-spanking new. The talent is assembled a week in advance and then the five playwrights are given a basic genre and setting, the number and gender of actors in their play and- most importantly- a random line that must appear at some point in the new work they’re creating. On Thursday night the playwrights assemble to deliver to the randomly chosen directors so they could study and block the work overnight. Then on Friday, the actors are added to the mix and again randomly chosen to fit into one of the five plays. Then the 24 hours of rehearsal, memorization and polishing begins before the plays are presented on Saturday night. Whew! It’s like having an all-night cast party the night before the play opens! A panel of three judges are in the audience and awards are given after the performances to various actors and playwrights as chosen “best” in their categories by these judges.

theatrelab24Though our host for the evening, Mike Dowdy, announces that mistakes may be made- flubbed lines, missed entrances, etc.- there were no obvious flaws other than a couple of short pauses here and there. In fact, these plays all looked like they had been rehearsed for weeks. The evening opened with Zak Allen-Farmer’s script which he calls “Three Women In A Bedroom Talking Like Men” (Zak won the award for best script). Anyone (including the men in the audience) know these women were really talking like women- not men. The bawdy language and increasingly drunk behavior kept the audience in stitches as these three ladies (the always wonderful Rachel Hanks, the lovely Blaire Hamilton and the delightful Sarah Porter) dissed on their husbands and tried to let the newlywed in on what happens as soon as the honeymoon is over.

Steve Peirick’s unsettling script, “Screaming” involves Marcy Weigert as a distraught housewife who must listen to her husband’s accomplishments at work when he comes home late- again- while she is frazzled by being kept running all day with a screaming newborn. Ranjan Kahn is the consoling husband who tries to make things better but he may be too late. Christina Rios Kelley has directed this one with an ever-increasing sense of dread and horror.

“That Memo” is Deanna Jent’s contribution and her clever script shows why her brilliant script, “Falling” is playing to sell-outs in its West Coast premiere. You don’t see this one coming as, winner of the night for best ensemble, has three actors who really take you by surprise. Tom Lehman has directed Rachel Tibbets and John Sparger as a couple who meet from an on-line dating service and they just happen to run into a friend of his from work, played by Even Kuhn, at a busy restaurant.

Another clever script is served up by Carl Wickman and directed by the night’s winner for direction, Todd Schaefer. Called “Uncomfortable,” Ben Nordstrom is a serial killer who comes on stage bloody and carrying a blood-stained knife and soon is confronted by the spirit of the lady he just killed, the best actress winner for the night, Sarajane Alverson. Hilarity follows this tragedy as the lost souls seem to bond despite what has just happened.

Closing out the night is best actor winner, Nick Kelly playing a rather odd Brit (or is he?) who confronts a stranger (or is he?) played by Carl Overly, Jr. It’s called “Rapport”, written by Spencer Green and directed by Ryan Foizey. This one is very Monty Python-esque with no obvious sense of where it’s going- but you don’t care because you’re laughing too hard.

theatrelablogoWhat a fun night this one was. As a fund-raiser for the relatively new group, Theatre Lab, it’s one of those evenings of theatre that even the critics pay and you don’t mind. There were even raffles during the scene changes between the five plays and a concession stand to raise money as well. It’s definitely for a good cause and you’re never going to see anything like it again. Although put together in 24 hours, it has the spontaneity of improv combined with the polish of professional theatre. It’s fleeting and wonderful and if you weren’t there, it’s your loss- the moment can’t be captured again. Until maybe next year for the Second Annual 24 Hour Play Festival.

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Just an observation- although we saw some great plays of the season around this Halloween including “Evil Dead-The Musical” at Stray Dog and New Line’s premiere of “Night Of The Living Dead- The Musical,” we haven’t seen one of my favorites in a long time, often associated with the season, “Arsenic And Old Lace.” It’s been around a long time but, done well, it’s still one of the funniest plays ever written.

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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone and try to avoid shopping on that holiday and at least wait until Black Friday. Me? I’ll be waiting around for what looks like “Black Week-End” that week after Thanksgiving with at least six or seven plays opening- probably spilling into the week end after that. Enjoy live theatre when you can this holiday season and I’ll probably see you somewhere in the audience.

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