Fells Point Corner Theatre’s 10X10X10 festival has fast become a staple of the Baltimore theatre scene. It is a festival comprised of ten brand new ten-minute plays performed with an ensemble of ten actors. The works are typically experimental and explore a wide range of thematic elements. It’s a perfect formula for Fells Point Corner Theatre because it’s almost impossible not to have an enjoyable time. Even if you don’t like a certain piece, it’s over in ten minutes and on to the next one. To add a bit of a razzle dazzle to the proceedings, FPCT’s festival is also a competition. The audience members vote on their top three favorite entries (although whether we are supposed to make our judgement based on the script alone or the presentation as a whole is left ambiguous) with the winners receiving prizes after the run of the festival.
Harmony, Fix My Life:
Written and directed by Christen Cromwell this piece explores two new parents who struggle with how to manage life and a new kid. Burdened with a father who refuses to take any responsibility for their child, the mother is exhausted and at her wit’s end. Enter Harmony, her fairy godmother who has come to give her a rest and talk some sense into her husband. It was a great piece to kick off the festival with high energy and a zany concept perfect for setting the tone of the night. Although the piece did have some pacing problems, it’s nothing that won’t be smoothed out after the first weekend.
There is No More Left of Me After This:
This piece written by Jen Diamond and directed by Betse Lyons concerns two women who, as they are drowning, see their life pass before their eyes; but not the life they’ve already lived. The life they have yet to experience and (apparently) never will. This piece was a haunting entry into the festival that showed off Lyons insane directing abilities. Rarely having the actors look at each other (they’re drowning after all) she managed to established brilliant levels of tension and chemistry. The script was sophisticated and polished while still remaining breathtakingly vulnerable. After this piece was over I found myself needing a minute to process everything because of the immense emotional depth Diamond managed to craft.
Reason for Separation:
Written by Isaiah Harvey this piece was a bit of a dud for me. The script seemed to meander and the pacing made the entry well over ten minutes. The actors did what they could with it, Shamire Casselle especially is infinitely easy to watch, beautifully navigating beat shift after beat shift. She projects her inner monologue without ever forcing it. It felt as though the story Harvey wanted to tell was not well suited for the form of a ten minute play. Harvey wanted these intricate dynamics and histories between the characters as well as subplots and honestly you just can’t squeeze all that into a ten minute play. I hope Harvey develops this piece further because the way the dialogue is crafted is honest and impressive, the limitations of the 10 minute structure just seemed to hold the story back though.
Things We Talk About at 4:00 in the Morning:
This piece was a bit, to quote RuPaul “Meh” for me. Well-acted and directed, Lyons yet again establishing beautiful intimacy between her two characters, the script just kept asking too much of the audience. There was too much crammed in and too many shifts in the narrative for us to be asked to keep going with it. It was clear the playwright wanted the reveal to be a surprise so I won’t ruin it, but I felt as though keeping it as a surprise hindered the tension of the scene, it forced the audience to recalibrate everything we’ve just heard for the past half of the play, and that’s a bit daunting of a task for a ten-minute entry.
UH: a BRIEF MUSICAL:
Playwright Utkarsh Rajawat cemented his play as a serious contender for the prize this year. An unexpected crowd pleaser, this play deals with a recently deceased woman having to make her case (to two men of course) for whether she should go to heaven or hell. She does so as the title suggests, in song. The absurdity of the play is just enough to keep us asking what’s going to happen next without ever alienating the audience. Director Donna Ibale succeeded in bringing a potentially risky text to life in a fresh and captivating way.
I Saw this in Paducah:
This play written by Rich Espey, concerns two white women who travel the country attending short play festivals. The tension comes in when one of the women insists on talking about a past piece that explored race and the other white woman, clearly upset by the conversation, refuses to. She then becomes enraged to learn that this same past piece is included in the festival they are about to attend. So look, the play was finely written, acted, and directed, but on the whole it seemed incredibly tone deaf. It was just ten minutes of watching white women discuss and attempt to solve racism. I’m not so much critiquing the plays validity to having been written, but rather the choice to include it in this festival when there were no other pieces included that directly tackled racism written by or involving people of color.
This spectacular entry written by Tatianna Nya Ford was a brilliant exploration into the mind of a woman living in a coma. Seemingly based on the true story of a comatose woman who was raped by her nurse and subsequently impregnated, this play imagines what her inner monologue is. The exploration of the pain and love and loyalty she feels to this child she will never meet is masterfully portrayed by Dana Woodson. “Mira” is also a perfect continuation to the conversation Ford started with her entry in last year’s 10X10X10 festival “Hello Baby”. Both plays explore this idea of motherhood and the agency of women’s bodies and in this time of American history where women’s bodies are being regulated and controlled by male politicians, this was the only piece of the night that felt necessary and truly relevant.
Beer Bottle Bug:
Written by David J. Hills this piece concerns a woman struggling with alcoholism who supposedly turned her parole officer into a beetle and now wants to smash him. Delightful and humorous without really being a standout. It had the difficult task of following “Mira” unfortunately, and was a tad forgettable.
The Home for Retired Canadian Girlfriends:
Written by John Bavaso this play far and away had the most interesting concept out of any of the ten submissions. Taking place in a fantasy retirement home where the imagined “Canadian girlfriends” of closeted gays wind up after the gay who created them comes out. The concept was ripe for apt commentary on the current state of queer culture and identity, but instead it was a muddled mess that didn’t know what it wanted to say. It meandered from point to point never really sinking its teeth into anything. Was it about cultural acceptance of gay identities? Was it about the misogyny in white heteronormative gay culture? Was it about how acceptance is literally the bare minimum for queer rights? I don’t know, it just wasn’t clear. There were also some dangerous implications in the text. It was suggested that a lot of the subversive acts such as outing closeted conservative politicians and other politically motivated movements for gay liberation were actually caused by these fictitious Canadian girlfriends. This is problematic when you think about how in reality it’s queer people of color who have actually been doing the groundwork for these rebellions for decades and the play seemed to erase this and replace it with a strange version of white feminism. Overall it seemed like Bavaso didn’t quite know how to make the message clear.
Rich Pauli’s play about a man who has survived some form of apocalypse, thanks to his Alexa who is in love with him, closes out the night with a muffled bang. Actor Christian O’Neill managed to pull out some genuinely funny moments from the outrageous circumstances and the play was witty enough to keep interest. However, for the closing number of the show there wasn’t quite enough substance to really make much of an impact.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go, go go! This is an important festival that brings life to the voices of Baltimore playwrights. The ensemble of actors gives their all and is stunning to watch. Not every play is amazing, but all are worth watching. (B)