The one-act play is tough to pull off. Character development, which is essential to effective drama, is a difficult thing to establish in a short scenario. Luckily for Vineyard audiences, some very talented local actors manage to bring to life, if briefly, a few very divergent characters whose lives make up a trio of short plays presented this weekend and next by Island Theatre Workshop (ITW).
The wonderful Lee Fierro opens the evening as Mrs. Sorken in a monologue by absurdist playwright Christopher Durang. The short comedic piece was written as the introduction for a series of one-acts by the award-winning dramatist whose work was very popular in the 1980s. Welcoming the audience at the start of the evening, Mrs. Sorken, a prim older woman, has stepped in front of the curtain to expound on theater and help us to understand what makes it work. She gets off to a promising start but very soon a series of digressions and attempts at metaphor turn her talk into a nonsensical scramble of the Greek roots of words and Mrs. Sorken’s personal connections to subjects.
Mr. Durang is known for parodying the work of well-known playwrights and genres and, in this short piece he is taking a shot at theater itself and the highbrow seriousness that tends to surround it. Perhaps the monologue is an indictment of drama scholars who search for symbolism and meaning where there may just be entertainment value.
Ms. Fierro is so convincing as the absentminded, foolish, yet likeable Mrs. Sorken that if one was not familiar with the accomplished actress’ spark, wit, and intelligence they might be fooled into thinking that she was someone’s aunt who had just wandered up on stage. This brilliant performance sets the stage for a program of entertaining vignettes that owe their sparkle to impressive local talent.
A slice of lunacy comedy, “Deer Play” features Linda Berg as an underemployed actress who manages to find high drama in horticulture. It quickly becomes obvious that her hobby has turned the corner into obsession and, despite the efforts of her best friend and fellow actor (played by Shelley Brown) to bring her back amongst the living, Madge is hopelessly as rooted in her garden as her precious flowers. But we see that even gardening can be fraught with all the elements of high drama as Madge’s anthropomorphizing of the natural world leads her to as much passion, hate, and vengeance as you’re likely to find in any Shakespearean tragedy.
Madge is played with melodramatic perfection by Ms. Berg, who summons up as much power and emotion as a wronged Medea. Kevin Ryan supplies the unexpected conclusion. As the play’s director and actor, whose portrayal of a lion in ITW’s short-play festival two years ago was a scene stealer, gets to literally trot out another convincing performance of an unusual nature, and his appearance in the final scene provides the very funny (both funny haha and funny peculiar) wrap-up to the clever comedy.
Rounding out a trio of strong female roles, Katrina Nevin stars as Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” Ms. Fierro, who directs, chose to present the first scene of the well-known drama as a standalone piece because, as she notes, she loves Shaw and the play and “because it is complete in itself. It has a beginning, a middle and an end.” Furthermore, Ms. Fierro, who hoped to have the opportunity as a young woman to play Joan at some point in her long career and has many of her inspiring speeches memorized, says that she was anxious to direct Ms. Nevin in the role.
With her sweet, serene look and halo of blonde curls, the 23-year-old actress would seem a natural to play the young Maid of Orleans, but the role really calls for a strength of character belying the age, sex, and innocence of the title character. In a very short space of time, Joan manages to turn the self-important, domineering Lord de Baudricourt around to her cause. No little feat for Joan, and a similarly challenging undertaking for a young actress to convince an audience that she can tackle prejudice, conventionality, and machismo on the strength of her conviction alone.
Ms. Nevin does a stellar job as the unflappable Joan, refusing to back down against the gruff and condescending Don Lyons, Times sports editor and amateur thespian, as de Baudricourt. It is always a pleasure to watch the talented Mr. Lyons, who is master at commanding an audience’s attention from his first line on. The seasoned actor somehow always manages to bring his characters to life with seeming effortlessness and his powerful performance in “Saint Joan” is no exception.
The play fragment also features Michael Gilman and Brad Austen, who has a small role in “Deer Play” as well.
Rounding out the bill will be a short monologue, “Prince Charming’s Complaint,” delivered by Mr. Ryan.
“Laces” by MVRHS
ITW One Acts, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. March 11–13, March 17–20, times vary. $10 + item for Island Food Pantry. 508-627-2456.