Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Playing Games" and Other Entertainments at Heartland

A lot is happening at Heartland Theatre right now!

Dave Lemmon and Gayle Hess in "It"
Heartland's annual 10-Minute Play Festival, always a summertime treat, opens its second weekend of performances tonight with more "Playing Games" plays. In case you've missed the memo, this year the plays, chosen from among 366 entries, involve some kind of game, and that includes Scrabble (Austin Steinmetz's "Wordplay"), Bingo (Meny Beriro's "Final Bingo"), Rummikub (Alexis Roblan's "Bourbon Whiskey Rummikub"), a video game (Jerry McGee's "I Am. I Think"), the children's game of Tag (Mike Poblete's "It"), tug-of-war as a metaphor for divorce woes (John D. Poling's "Destiny's Tug-of-War") and the dating game as translated for a new world on Craigslist (Marj O'Neill-Butler's "Missed Connections").

Five of the eight playwrights were in town to see their plays last Saturday night, which was also my first opportunity to see
"Playing Games" realized on Heartland's stage. I chair the 10-Minute Plays committee for Heartland, and as a result, I read all the plays and help the judging process along for the first two rounds. That means I am in no way an unbiased audience member when it comes time to see the whole program. But it's always interesting to see how what you read on the page comes alive on stage, and how different directors and actors can make the material.

My (completely biased) judgment this year is that Poblete's "It," nicely directed by Rachel Krein and starring Dave Lemmon and Gayle Hess, both terrific as wise-beyond-their-years children, is the funniest and sharpest among the produced plays, and that John D. Poling from Clinton, Illinois, has created the most heartfelt piece with his "Tug-of-War," with George Freeman offering a warm and sweet performance as a divorced man caught between his ex, her new girlfriend and their injured dog. O'Neill-Butler's "Missed Connections," directed by Ron Emmons, with Kent Nusbaum and Alyssa Ratkovich doing good work as a pair of mixed-up singles, is also fresh and timely.

In terms of the scripts, McGee's "I Am. I Think." goes for the most depth -- McGee actually tries to discuss the concept of Free Will versus Fate in ten minutes! -- and features excellent performances from both Dana Anderson and Dave Lemmon, who goes from a kid on the playground in "It" to a harried commuter worried about his very existence in "I Am. I Think." in the space of twenty minutes.

If you are a game player, this is the Festival for you. You have three weekends left to catch these hot-off-the-press 10-minute plays, with reservation and show time information on Heartland's website.

Also of note -- tomorrow marks the annual Summer Showcase from Heartland's Young at Heartland acting troupe for seniors. This year, a corps of 24 actors will perform scenes centering on the idea of "Opportunities." That's tomorrow, June 15, at 1 pm at Heartland Theatre, and you are advised to arrive early if you want a seat. There is no charge for admission, but they suggest a donation at the door as you enter.

And last but not least, Heartland has launched a new website this week. If you've visited before, you will notice that it has a new look and lots of information on the upcoming season, on the 10-Minute Play Festival, New Plays from the Heartland, Young at Heartland and their summer schedule of performances, and even the Board of Directors, of which I am a member.

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