The three one-act plays selected for Island Theater Workshop’s (ITW) “Pick of the Crop” production this year all center around the theme of relationships — but not in the way you might expect. There’s not a rom-com to be found among the batch. Though all of the short plays deal with some serious themes, they certainly have their lighter moments, lots of wit, and plenty of humor. “Each deals with a very unusual relationship,” said ITW’s artistic director, Kevin Ryan, who selected the three pieces.
In the first play, Frederick Stroppel’s dark comedy “Morning Coffee,” we find a warring couple making a final break. “It’s a story about a contemporary couple who have reached the point where they are done,” Mr. Ryan said. “One will have to leave the apartment. There’s a taste of the movie ‘The War of the Roses,’ but much shorter, tighter, far more angry.” Still, the barbs tossed back and forth are laced with humor.
Mr. Stroppel’s plays have been produced in many well-known Off-Broadway theaters and elsewhere. He is also a screenwriter, whose film credits include “Brooklyn State of Mind,” starring Tony Danza and Vincent Spano, and “Dark Side of Genius,” starring Moon Unit Zappa.
Following this story of a damaged relationship is a drama of a much different sort. “The Last Trip,” by Mike Willis, is about a marriage that has passed the test of time, and the continued devotion that an elderly woman shows to her husband as he regresses into the later stages of Alzheimer’s. The play also features the couple’s daughter, who is surprised at the lengths that her mother will go to make her husband’s final days special.
“It’s a very short piece with so much warmth to it,” Mr. Ryan said. “There’s such a sense of simplicity to this piece. I think the playwright must have lived through some of this himself. It’s so honest. It’s sad, but I believe it’s also really uplifting and warm and full of sweet moments.”
The third play in the series, “The American Century” by Murphy Guyer, covers the full spectrum of a marriage — from young love to the adulthood of the featured couple’s children. Through this family drama, the playwright reflects on events in the country from the 1940s through the 1980s. The play is framed by an interesting device that also manages to show the differing viewpoints of husband and wife.
“So much of the play is dealing with problems we had in the world in 1945 and still have today,” Mr. Ryan said. “Really, in many ways it’s sober and frightening when we look at the major events that took place in the country from the middle of the century on, but it’s done in a tongue-in-cheek style. The rapid-fire humor of this piece is so fast, it’s like bullets.”
Mr. Ryan notes that people who have been involved with the production or who have sat in on rehearsals have compared the piece to the film “Back to the Future,” which came out after the play was written.
The playwright Murphy Guyer has written works for stage, screen, and radio, and has enjoyed a successful career as a TV actor. His first play, “Eden Court,” was produced on Broadway and made into a film.
Mr. Ryan said with the annual short play series, he strives to present audiences with something new by unfamiliar playwrights. With the current selection, Islanders will be introduced to some new local talent as well.
Among the new actors are Austin Grande and Alysha Norbury, who will take on the roles of the sparring couple in “Morning Coffee,” Leia McCarter, co-star of “The Last Trip,” and Sebastian Corwin, who will be slinging one-liners in “The American Century.”
Returning ITW players include Katrina Nevin, Rykerr Maynard, Gaston Vadasz, and Molly Chvatal. The “Pick of the Crop” series will also introduce some new directors. Board member and veteran ITW actor Brad Austin will be making his directing debut with “Morning Coffee.” Longtime ITW member and Children’s Theater executive director Stephanie Burke will be helming “The Last Trip.”
“The beauty of the short play is that it’s a wonderful teaching tool,” Mr. Ryan said. “This series gives chances to new people who want to direct and act.”
And, of course, a short play program mixes things up nicely for the audience. “This allows us to give people a lot of variety,” Mr. Ryan said. “I think the selection that we’re able to unearth in short plays gives people a chance to become familiar with many wonderful writers whom they may never have heard of before. I think some of these pieces will become classics in our lifetime.”
“Pick of the Crop”: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19, at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2 pm. Grange Hall, West Tisbury. Mature audiences only. For more information, call 508-627-2456.