Friday, June 11, 2010

"Inns & Outs" in Ten Minutes or Less at Heartland Theatre

Full disclosure: I am very involved with Heartland Theatre's 10-Minute Play Festival. I chair the committee that selects the plays, which means I read each and every play, I discuss each and every play with other members of the committee, and I form opinions of them based on what they were like on the page. All of which means there is no way I can be a dispassionate observer when it comes to the actual production of the plays on stage at Heartland.

I love the ten-minute play concept. It just suits our attention-deficit world, doesn't it? In those ten minutes, playwrights have to pack in compelling characters, a complete plot (beginning, middle and end), and enough of a hook to keep the audience's attention for the whole ten minutes. Sound easy? It's not. But the good ones... Ah, the good ones. You see something like Greg Kotis's "An Examination of the Whole Playwright/Actor Relationship Presented as Some Kind of Cop Show Parody" or Sheri Wilner's "Bake Off!" and you find yourself transported and satisfied. In ten minutes. Amazing.

This year, Heartland's theme was "Inns & Outs" or the hotel lobby, which is a subject I know a bit about. Growing up, my sister and I both spent many a summer (and school year) working at Pheasant Run Lodge, a resort hotel complete with several restaurants, a golf course and a playhouse. I know what it is to be a hotel babysitter, switchboard operator, room service cook and waiter, pool attendant and front desk clerk. I love hotels almost as much as ten-minute plays.

This year's roster of plays, featuring playwrights from Connecticut to Seattle, has a variety of viewpoints on hotel life, from funny to sad to downright touching. That's what great about an evening of theater like this; they're all so different from each other.

Several would have you believe it's mind-numbingly boring to work at the front desk. (Nope. Hotel babysitter and switchboard operator are far worse.) But they all offer intriguing characters and very different viewpoints on how and why people might interact in a semi-public place like a lobby.

I was struck by how many of the plays show off good acting partnerships and excellent scenes with just two characters. Nico Perez-Jandrich and Akeila LeClaire dance around each other nicely in Philip Kaplan's virtual reality rom com "Almost There," directed by John Ficca; Gregory Hicks and Todd Wineburner are subtle, strong and affecting in Dave Krostal's "If Only," directed by Holly Rocke; Ann Bastian White and Gayle Hess connect and click in Elena Naskova's mood piece, "Driving Through the Fog," directed by Misti Sommers, and Rosemary Luitjens and Kevin Wickart are simply wonderful as a mother and son in Bara Swain's "Civil Disobedience," directed by Chris Gray.

I also enjoyed Dave Lemmon as an officious desk clerk in Corey Case's "Not in My Lobby, You Don't," and Becky Miller as a brand-new hotel maid in R.D. Wakeman's "Going Nowhere." Lots of good acting happening in this year's festival.

"Ursula Fernhouse Checks Out," a goofy piece by Michael McGuire about a hapless hired killer (Herb Reichert), a frisky front desk clerk (Kim Behrens) and the world's oldest bad girl (winningly played by Rosemary Luitjens), closes out the evening on a high note. Director Christopher Connelly goes for a definitely wacky tone that works quite well.

"Inns & Outs" plays through June 27 at Heartland Theatre. There will be a talkback after the Sunday matinee on the 13th, with Holly Rocke, Todd Wineburner and me answering questions about the process. We'll also reveal next year's theme if anybody is interested on getting a head start on the competition.

For reservations, click on the Heartland link at left to see showtimes, ticket prices and box office information.

1 comment:

  1. Gail put this comment on the Tonys' post, but I think it's supposed to go here:

    "Nicely said, Julie. Can't wait to hear your impressions this afternoon. Everyone loved hearing some of the inside story on judging these at the reception last night."

    I will be seeing the 10-minute plays again this afternoon before the talk-back, and it will be interesting to see if they've changed much since last Thursday. It always happens, I think, once everybody gets in front of an audience and gets a better idea of where the laughs come and where the slow moments are, etc. And remember, with a short play festival like this, there isn't one play to pace or settle into. There are eight. Eight separate processes!