The smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd arrived last weekend for a three-day run with the One Act Play Festival at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. The buffet was as fresh and variously inflected as a Brooklyn potluck supper.
Is It Me? by playwright Tony Devaney Morinelli, deftly directed by Leslie Stark, presents Margaret (Molly Chvatal) and Louisa (Alyssa Langill), seated side by side for no immediately apparent reason. Are they part of what’s known in the theater world as a “cattle call”? Awaiting a flunky at their local unemployment office? At first they speak to themselves in cartoon thought bubbles. “Something smells odd,” muses one of them. In fact, they’re both confused, insecure, and then outright phobic about odors in their vicinity. Fear of bodily smell — underarm? foot sweat? — pervades their thought processes. Thought turns to small talk: insincere, yet incisively probing for the source of that hair-raising aroma. In the end, their neuroses cause them both to panic and flee.
The second short, directed by Lee Fierro, was worth the price of admission — and the travel in bitter cold weather — to see actor George Ricci, whom Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) board president Stephanie Burke described in a pre-curtains-up phone interview as “a juicy actor” in this one-act by the inimitable Anton Chekhov: On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (interesting that this subject was already afloat back in the Imperial Russia of 1886). A pompous, preposterous, sad sack of a man, Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin, prepares to lecture a group of “ladies and gentlemen,” and yet confides that he’s “no professor” and “not exactly a scholar.” It turns out his wealthy wife, who runs a girls’ boarding school of questionable propriety, and who stashes away tens of thousands of rubles, leaving poor Ivanovich with “not even a kopek!” has dropped him off to be rid of him for a while. Not a single sentence of poor Ivanovich’s is a sequitur of the last, and yet he lets slide that his wife addresses him as “dummy!” while he describes her as “miserly and hellish!” Ah, marriage in the 19th century Chekhovian style.
The First Fireworks by Alex Broun, directed by Kevin Ryan, grabs our attention as Mom (Felicity Russell), in a torn hospital gown, claws her way onto a bench. She’s joined by daughter Helen (Christine Ferrone), dripping in glam evening wear; she’s been summoned to find her runaway, dying mother. She knows this is Mom’s special spot from the New Year’s Eve of 30 years before, when Helen was 8 and Mom first brought her here to watch the fireworks. An entire family saga is decanted in this short, tender play, with a memorable La Pieta scene out: Rather than mother holding in her lap a dying divine son, a daughter supports her parent.
She’s Fabulous by Jack Neary, directed with panache by Kevin Ryan, lands us in the intermission break from Death of a Salesman — a clever program placement as it precedes this ITW docket’s own intermission — as two actresses, Clarice (Linda Comstock) and Bethel (Melissa Keeler), dissect the role for which they themselves had auditioned mightily. To their intense dismay, the onstage actress is peerless, unassailable — a Meryl Streep comes to mind. They can’t stop gnashing their teeth at her wonderfulness, yet at the same time ruining the hard work they themselves brought to bear on their own auditions. As the day follows the night in theater jealousies, they fall to attacking each other, Clarice chuffing Bethel for her turn in Lost in Yonkers. Her hard work had showed all too clearly: “You were a thespian jackhammer!” And yet the lights dim and the second act threatens, as they resign themselves to their invidious admiration of the one who won the part.
Trifles, written by Susan Glaspell and directed by Lee Fierro, is a time machine to a faraway, archaic setting. In a Nebraska farmhouse, the frozen plains steep into the sad, shabby interior. Only the day before, a farmer (Jim Osborn) had dropped by to see if Mr. Wright might partake in a party phone line. He found Mrs. Wright in her rocking chair: “She looked queer.” Without any apparent emotion, she informed him Mr. Wright was dead upstairs, strangled by a rope. The action unfolds the following morning, as a hotshot investigator (Tim Daniels) with a local law enforcer (George Ricci) questions the farmer who found the body, then proceeds upstairs to hunt for clues. In the meantime, two farmwives (Lee Fierro and Stephanie Burke) assemble the homey details — the ruined fruit and the single jar of cherry preserves, the pieces of quilting never joined, an empty birdcage and a throttled canary — as the crime is solved by their women’s intuition. A nascent feminism is born in that gloomy Nebraska homestead.
The final offering, Pillow, cleverly directed by Kevin Ryan, presents Wilma, a woman in a bathrobe over plain pajamas (Corinne DeLangavant), as she answers the call of her friend Janice, in a silk robe over a negligee (Corinne Kurtz), in the aftermath of a one-night stand. The fix-up had been arranged by Wilma and botched by Janice, who reveals that her significantly — an unappetizingly — older, wealthy blind date is dead in bed upstairs. The manner in which Janice managed, involuntarily and yet cavalierly, to kill him could elevate Fifty Shades of Grey into the PG category.
Stephanie Burke pitched in as assistant director, longtime ITWers Brad Austin and Gwen Mead as stage managers. The One Act Play Festival continues this weekend, on Friday, March 27, and Saturday, March 28, at 7:30 pm, with a matinee on Sunday, March 29, at 3 pm. Tickets are $15 for one, or $25 for two, recommended for adults only. Tickets are available at the door; for additional information call 508-627-2456 or 508-737-8550.
This summer, watch for work from ITW Children’s Theater, and a promised production of The King And I, starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr (kidding, of course: We’ll see which ITW players haul out star turns for this beloved musical).
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Tim Daniels as the farmer in Trifles. That role is played by Jim Osborn, whose last name was incorrectly spelled Osborne. Tim Daniels and not Mr. Osborn played the hotshot investigator.