This weekend, we will again be reminded of the range and depth of talent that flourishes on the Island. For all its shifts and changes, the Vineyard reliably embraces and nurtures the unique and affecting work of its artists, musicians, writers, and actors.
Local talent will be clearly evidenced this weekend and next, in Island Theatre Workshop’s (ITW) second annual Pick of the Crop: Original Plays by Island Authors Festival, five plays written, directed, produced, and performed by Islanders. Prepared to be dazzled.
If there is a common theme to the offerings, it is the complications of relationships. The two plays performed Thursdays and Saturdays are: “H.O.P.E.,” written and directed by Island native Allison Carr, and starring a cast of students from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School; and “Just One Look,” written and starring Taffy McCarthy, one of the Island’s most talented performers, and directed by ITW’s artistic director Kaf Warman, associate teaching professor in drama at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Today is the happiest day of my life,” says Sis Coles, the happy young Southern bride in the touching and comedic “Just One Look.” She is 15 minutes away from her wedding ceremony and speaks to the audience about expectations.
Ms. McCarthy, who is a treat to watch on stage, takes on the monologues of all the different characters — the “clear-hearted” Sis, her mother, father, boss, pastor, fiancé.
After lauding director Warman — “She has an amazing gift,” Ms. McCarthy describes her play: “It’s why people cry at weddings. It’s that moment, that hope. It’s everything that you promise before intentions have been tested.” She adds, “And then Life happens.”
The play is preceded by “H.O.P. E.” (Having Opened People’s Eyes), a knock-your-socks-off play by recent Fairleigh Dickinson University graduate Allison Carr. It developed from a senior project in which she interviewed emotionally disabled and substance-abusive students.
Six remarkable young actors sit in folding chairs on stage, looking like typical teens. They take turns revealing themselves: Elyse (Sarah Swift), self-mutilation; Samantha (Sidra Dumont), bipolar; Jaime (Della Burke), self-mutilation; Ben (Grant Meacham), alcoholism; Eve (Ashley Gwynn), eating disorder; and Michael (Ian Chickering), self-mutilation. Haley Hewson touchingly appears as Eve’s best friend Kate.
Ms. Carr’s play shines with truth, and is presented with finesse, high energy, and craftsmanship. The entire cast seems able to understand and empathetically relate to the situations, and each is superlative in his and her performance.
It is a real and grim subject, but so beautifully crafted it becomes a concert of voices in six parts, and the play’s conclusion informs as well as inspires. Kudos to Ms. Carr.
On Fridays and Sundays, the plays include: “Envia!,” written by Kelly DuMar and directed by ITW’s artistic advisor Lee Fierro; “Closure,” written by G.R. Russell, also directed by Ms. Fierro; and “Separation Tango,” written and directed by Wayne Greenwell.
Playwright Greenwell, former publisher of At Home Seattle magazine, explains the tango as “two people trying to take a walk with each person interfering with the other,” and says “Separation Tango” is “based on the universality of relationships, the ebb and flow of commitment.”
Rob Meyers, Kahoots singer/guitarist, and deejay on WVVY, makes his romantic slip-and-slide character, Preston, easy to forgive as he dances his way into a relationship with the practical Amy, wonderfully played by Charter School teacher Treather Gassmann. Theirs is a complicated relationship as the scenes flash forward and back. Ms. Gassmann captures every nuance of a self-protective woman who gradually lets her guard down. As the two figuratively and literally dance around, Amy becomes a freer spirit — more like Preston’s estranged wife — as he grows more practical and closed-off. “Separation Tango” is smart, fast-moving, and as clever as it is realistic.
In separately titled and performed monologues, “Envia!” depicts four aspects of a single character, each portrayed by a different actor. Each monologue stands on its own and, directed by theater veteran Lee Fierro, each brings its character to life.
Jessica Gorman plays an over-the-top, would-be actress who tells the casting director that she doesn’t need a callback, “I’ll let my agent know if I’m interested.” Ms. Gassmann is a hard-luck street person with a theatrical attitude — “I’m exceptionally compassionate. It’s all I have left after losing my cell phone.” Gilman Jeffers is very funny as a checkout clerk who insists the customer engage, even offering the name of his dentist to correct the shopper’s overbite; and Toby Allen takes on the role of a flirtatious receptionist in a medical clinic. All the actors seem perfectly matched to their characters and bring “Envia!” to life.
And then there’s “Closure,” featuring the practiced talents of Annie Palches, Leslie J. Stark, Jessica Gorman, and Xavier Powers. It’s a story of love, deceit, and a family history that will leave the audience gasping.
Daughter Amanda returns home after having recently married and even more recently divorced. “Did you see all the presents?” a dismayed Greta asks her daughter, while father George goes to sleep to avoid confrontations. It’s complicated. Amanda says, “It seems to me there’s a lot of stuff pushed under the rug in this town,” but eventually the truth seeps out.
ITW’s dedicated board president, Stephanie Burke, works closely with Kevin Ryan, Ms. Warman, and Ms. Fierro. “We’ve taken a leap forward in the past five years,” she says, crediting The Preservation Trust for recently providing ITW a home in West Tisbury on Music Street, for classes, administrative tasks, and rehearsals. She says, “Our mission is education through mentorship, performance, and workshops.”
ITW’s Pick of the Crop, Thursdays through Sundays, Oct. 21–31, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 pm; Sundays, 3 pm matinees. $15; $25 for two nights. Recommended for 16 . 508-737-8550; itwmv.org.