Saturday, February 2, 2013

REVIEW: The Fire This Time Play Festival


The best thing a short play festival can be is a sampler plate of excellent talent. For those who try to dodge diversity by saying it's hard to find the right talent, you'll find a stern rebuke in The Fire This Time, a festival of ten minute works by people of color. Fantastically, there's not a bad apple in this bunch.

Two brothers spar over a will, left behind by their recently deceased father, and old wounds from earlier contracts and legal documents. The characters are well-rendered, both in their moments of tender humanity, and in their moments of outsized grandiosity. Flor De Liz Perez carries the comic moments well as the slightly batty lawyer presiding over the proceedings, and Bjorn DuPaty and Shawn Randall knock the two brothers out of the park. Between the three of them, they capture the ways in which families can love each other so deeply that the love can suffocate each other.

POOR POSTURING, by Tracey Conyer Lee
Somewhat more metaphorical in tone, an A+ student, Demetrius (Chinaza Uche -- previous reviews here and here), is trying to get to the bottom of why his professor Sara Thigpen has picked him out of the crowd for abuse. On the face of it, it's an issue of posture: the way he sits forward with a furrowed brow, or slouches back in his chair. But really, it's about the way that the prejudice changes the way we see each other, and how the creeping racism under the surface forces higher expectations, and how people adjust to the rules of institutions. It reminded me strongly of Chris Rock's sermon on C students. Like Favored Nations, it mixes humor and exaggerated scenarios with real emotions and real implications to tell it's tale; in this case, however, it goes straight for the root of the nastiest side of people, and refuses to pull punches.

ORCHIDS AND POLKA DOTS, by Nathan Yungerberg
It's hard for me to pick out my favorite of these pieces, but it's possible that Orchids and Polka Dots is mine. In the middle of our century (time an place unimportant), Dr. Gentry (Kristoffer Tonning)  is testing LSD on Mrs. Jordan (McKenzie Frye). The theory is that they're about to find out something about LSD, but in truth, they're about to discover more about Dr. Gentry, and Mrs. Jordan, and what's possible when we're completely freed of normalcy. It's poetic, and it rides on excellent performances by the two stars.

NIGHTFALL (excerpt), by Cynthia G. Robinson
This was the hardest piece -- partly, perhaps, because it was an excerpt from a larger work, and partly because it was a fairly realist look at rape and abuse by the Janjaweed during the Sudanese genocides. Because of the subject matter, there's a lot of screaming, crying, and begging -- all performed excellently, but because of the compressed time span it's hard for anything to move forward or progress very far. It's hard to criticize a piece about senseless rape and violence for feeling senseless, but I have a feeling that the piece fits better in context of a larger work.

THE SAD, SECRET (SEX) LIFE OF STEVE URKEL, by Eric Lockley (previous review)
This is probably the closest I've ever come to Steve Urkel porn (despite rumors that it's out there...), and probably the best way I could have come across it. The story: Steve Urkel (Larry Powell) has concocted a "love potion" to get Laura Winslow (Toccara Cash) in love with him. Except he didn't make a love potion, he made a lust potion. The short is hilarious and poignant, and it offers a quick snapshot into how unprepared we may be for the sexuality that we want to unleash.

WITHIN UNTAINTED WOMBS (excerpt), by Dennis A. Allen II
Philip K. Dick imagined new technologies to reflect upon our lives as people. Within Untainted Wombs does the same, imagining what it would be like if pregnant mothers could commune with the unborn children. And just as Dick imagines how technology reflects the worst parts of our souls, and the best, so does Within Untainted Wombs ask hard questions about how to raise a child when we're not prepared for it, and how that reflects in our children. It's smartly constructed and deeply moving.

ALWAYS (excerpt), by Danielle T. Davenport
The last piece was the most understated of the evening, but just as excellently crafted. Erica (chandra thomas) has written a best-selling book of "fiction". But the fictive nature of the book is up for debate when Malik (Peyton Coles) steps out of her past to confront her for writing about their time together in their work of fiction. I'm not sure where the fuller work goes, but this excerpt is rewarding and intelligent, and the two performers breathe life into the work in gratifying ways.