The Elm Theatre's One Act Festival
The Elm Theatre's recent One Act Festival at the Old Marquer Theatre featured new works from four local playwrights based on the subject of violence. The works were split into two programs, and each evening also featured Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo).
Pamela Davis Noland's Room for Dessert explores systemic injustice and racism. A man who has been pushed to his breaking point shoots up a diner and points his gun at the cook (Ron Flagge). The gunman (Rahim Glaspy) explains he's angry because a black person was killed recently by police. The cook begs the man not to shoot his daughter, who is working in the diner as a waitress, and he also admonishes the "young punk."
As the cook, Flagge's performance stands out. His voice carries the weight of a generation upset by violence and injustice. Although it's a short production, it covers a lot of ground, from discussing the civil rights movement to contemporary politics.
Jared Gore's The Ballad of Rat Dan takes a comic approach to crime. Tessa (Hannah Alline Culwell) learns that her boyfriend Charlie (David James Hamilton) set up a fake mugging so he can "save" her life and win back her heart. As the dysfunctional couple argues about the future of their relationship, Rat Dan (Drew Cothern) hops out of the closet so Charlie can save her once again.
The premise is far-fetched and, at times, pushes too hard on being wacky. But for the most part, the actors make the comedy work. Tessa threatens Charlie with a baseball bat, which somehow manages to turn him on, which got the biggest laugh of the night. While the show is mostly lighthearted, the end takes a gratuitously dark turn.
In Gruesome Playground Injuries (pictured), a teenage boy has climbed a tree so he can ride his bicycle off the roof of his school. With bandages wrapped around his bloody head, he walks into the school nurse's office where he meets Kayleen (Becca Chapman). The two begin a loving but complicated relationship that lasts nearly 30 years.
Directed by Jen Davis, the show weaves together a story of friendship and loyalty. Doug (Alex Smith) is an accident-prone man who continually is hospitalized for things like stepping on nails and getting hit by lightning. Kayleen deals with addiction issues, and in a gruesome moment, tries to cut out her stomach because she feels very sick. The two are damaged, but they continually return to one another for support.
Chronologically, the show flashes into the future and back in time, signaled by the year written in chalk. The structure can seem disorienting, but it contextualizes their relationship in fragments, and that reflects the way their lives are pieced together. Doug is a free spirit, and Smith is exceedingly charming in the role. He's offbeat but lovable, and he's very sincere about caring for Kayleen's well-being. At one point he threatens to kill a boyfriend who mistreats her. In contrast to Smith's Doug, Chapman brings a mesmerizing intensity to the stage. Chapman continues to prove she's a performer to watch. This well-executed production gives these characters a heartbreaking and realistic arc, which provides the program with a cathartic ending.