By Monique Jones
By Travis Cohen
By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
By Morgan Golumbuk
By Ciara LaVelle
By Carolina del Busto
By Michael E. Miller
Words, Words, Words, written by David Ives and directed by Ray and Sherry Norkus, is based on the philosophical adage that three monkeys typing into infinity eventually will create Hamlet. Through simple but effective circus-monkey costuming (white, short-sleeve, button-down shirts and bow ties for the boys;a pink tutu for the girl), our three monkeys -- Kafka, Swift, and Milton (Jenny Senior, Sean Norkus, and Patrick Freyman) -- pull us right into the cage. The actors' capable gestures (peeling and relishing bananas, one-finger typing, philosophical speculation punctuated with armpit scratching and swinging on tires) paint a contradictory yet comical picture of this interesting philosophical premise. At the end, abandoning the experiment and resigning themselves to monkeydom, Swift proposes killing the scientist in charge by challenging him to a duel and poisoning him, and Kafka begins to read aloud what he is typing: “Hark! Who goes there?” unknowingly heralding the creative virtues of randomness.
What we fear may be a pedantic narrative device in Steve Fabian's The Dinosaur Sleeps at Midnight turns out to be redemptive. Professor Dick Shinary (yes, “dictionary”), an uptight British bibliophile and wordsmith played by Sergio Soltero, stands stage left with a mammoth dictionary in hand. The professor narrates the plight of the play's protagonist and translates the “big” words into palatable, monosyllabic ones for the audience. Jaytee (J.R. Coley) is hopelessly in love with Tanya (Erin Schwartz), a voluptuous vamp who will never be capable of returning his affection -- “a slut,” translates Professor Dick. As the not-so-interesting plot of boy-wants-girl, boy-can't-have-girl, boy-gets-other-girl-instead unravels, so does the professor's erudite façade. It's always a thrill to see a Brit come unhinged, and Soltero's performance is no exception. By the end of the play, his heckling and insults to both the cast and the audience add some much-needed irony to what might otherwise be a simplistic story.
Self-Torture and Strenuous Exercise, written by Harry Kondolean and directed by Nikki Dietz, is the story of two couples caught in a vortex of neuroses ranging from suicidal tendencies to beatific visions of God in kitchen pots and pans. Perhaps the longest of all the plays, it is somewhat tedious. One highlight is Patrick Albano's success in integrating elements of both a born-again Christian and a Jewish mother risen from the dead into his character, Alvin, a jilted and blindly altruistic husband.
The set design for Brief Encounters is sparse: a couch, a couple of chairs, a chain hanging from the ceiling in one play; a wooden bar in another. There are very few sound effects and no variation in lighting. The theater, a black box that seats about 60, is stripped of everything but the basics. It is in this reduced state that we are reminded what makes memorable theater -- good writing and acting. The last weekend of the festival will present plays by Tennessee Williams, Wendy Wasserstein, and Alan Ball, who recently won an Academy Award for his screenplay American Beauty. With new scripts, directors, and performers but the same bare-bones set and high-energy acting, it's a must-see.