Brevity is the Soul of the Bay One Acts Festival

Last weekend I had two fun evenings in a row seeing both Program One and Program Two of the San Francisco Bay One Acts Festival – two programs of 13 short plays co-produced by 13 small Bay Area theatre companies.  (See my earlier BOA post for a complete list of all the plays, playwrights and producing theatres participating in the 2013 festival.)

The short play format requires an economy of exposition and both challenges and frees the playwright when compared to writing a full length play.  For the audience, there is less time to get invested, to learn about or care about the characters or the story, so a play needs to grab you pretty quickly.  Since there is only 15 minutes or so to complete the full arc of the story telling, short plays work particularly well for simple, comic vignettes or dialogues.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see a much wider array of stories, diverse in tone, style and theme.

"Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" photo by Christopher Alongi

“Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock”
photo by Christopher Alongi

I went to the festival with three friends and we had some overlapping and some different favorites – which I think is a great sign of a robust theatre festival.  As regular readers of TheatrePlaybyPlay know, I am not a theatre critic and I don’t write reviews, but here are some brief descriptions of some of the pieces I particularly enjoyed:

  • The one I want to see again:    Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock (a devised piece based on the poem by T.S. Eliot; directed by Allison Combs)  one of my favorite poems ever so this could have been a tough sell for me but it was lovely (in a shabby-chic kind of way) –  engaging, lyrical and beautifully performed and directed; some of the poem’s best lines were shown in a fresh light and will hopefully have people going home and reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” all the way through;
  • The one I want to see developed and expanded:     Desiree (written by Sam Leichter; directed by Rob Ready)  this gorgeously written piece may have needed a little more time than the short play format allows to tell its complex story about a young woman, now freed, who had been held captive for years (played by Sarah Rose Butler and her huge eyes which seem more full of sorrow and confusion than any eyes should ever be);
  • The one that made us all laugh out loud:     Write Dirty to Me (written by Daniel Holloway; directed by Sharon Huff Robinson)  particularly enhanced by the terrific cast, a play that has Sylvia Plath, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Herman Melville “manning” the sex phone lines for clients including Captain Ahab and Hester Prynne was just funny;
"Two Pidgeons Talk Politics" photo by Christopher Alongi

“Two Pidgeons Talk Politics”
photo by Christopher Alongi

  • The one with the best costumes:  Two Pigeons Talk Politics (written by Lauren Gunderson; directed by Maxx Kurzunski)   the proverbial birds-on-a-wire existential philosophy conversation, except these birds really do give a shit about the world;
  • The one with the best conversation:  Tie  - but it’s all about siblings.   3 Sisters Watching Three Sisters (written by Ignacio Zulueta; directed by Kat Kniesel) is exactly what its title says.   I was impressed with how complete and complex a profile emerged of these sisters in this clever and engaging few minutes of conversation set during an intermission of Chekov’s play.   Break of Day (written by Jeff Carter; directed by Brian Trybrom) may be one of the oddest yet most compelling conversations ever on stage between two of the oddest brothers ever — discussing what do with the cooling body of their just-deceased mother;
  • The one my friends liked best:  Shooter (written by Daniel Hirsch; directed by Rik Lopes)   this gripping modern update of a Greek chorus required its spot-on performances and direction to work so well and give us a glimpse into what it might be like inside the mind of a man who could plan and carry out a public massacre.
"Shooter" photo by Christopher Alongi

“Shooter”
photo by Christopher Alongi

There’s something for everyone at this short play festival and this list is just a small sampling of the good ones.  (For example, I also really liked Inexpressibly Blue by Nancy Cooper Frank!)

BOA Artistic Director Sara Staley said in a recent interview with Ashley Cowan for San Francisco Theatre Pub that she is (and in my opinion very appropriately) “proud of the diversity of BOA 2013 across the board from playwrights, to directors, cast, to our production team, which does happen to be all female. I feel like opportunity should be given to those who want to do engaging or innovative work, or tell a story that needs to be told, or support artists and community in a positive and productive way, regardless of their gender, color, or sexual orientation.”

I agree.  We have a real wealth of talent and choices in the Bay Area theatre world and the BOA Festival reminds us to check out the offerings of the smaller theatres where some of this great talent is being nurtured so well.  The BOA runs through October 5 at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco and you can get tickets here through:  Brown Paper Tickets.

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