Two days, fourteen new plays. The 14/48 Project: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival is as fun as it is impressive.
First performed in 1997, 14/48 is an even more challenging spin on the traditional 48-hour theater festival format. On Thursday evening, the artists involved kick off the festival by tapping the ceremonial 14/48 keg. A theme is then chosen at random for the writers. After receiving the theme (this time, “Who’s Watching Who”) the seven playwrights get started on a ten-minute play on that theme, which is due the following morning at eight.
On Friday, each of the seven directors is randomly assigned one of these plays. The casts are chosen (also by random drawing) soon after. The directors and actors rehearse the pieces for the rest of the day. They are joined by the not-to-be-underrated design team. The festival band contributes music and other sound. The seven new plays have their world premieres at 8 p.m. on Friday, and their final performances at 10:30 the same night.
14/48 takes the 48-hour theater challenge a step further between shows. The 8 p.m. audience provides possible themes for seven more short plays, and one is again chosen at random. The writers get to work on new material, with final drafts of their new 10-minute plays due on Saturday morning. Then the directors, actors, and designers start the rehearsal process all over again, preparing to put on seven more world premier performances on Saturday night. By the time the last show finishes just after midnight on Sunday, these artists will have created and performed fourteen new plays in 48 hours. 14/48 will have again earned the title “The World’s Quickest Theater Festival.”
I saw the 10:30 p.m. show on Friday, the second and final performances of seven plays on the theme “Who’s Watching Who?” The band started the show with an original song on the topic, and the MC opened with a monologue. As anyone who keeps up with the national news might guess, he found a lot of political relevancy in the theme. The delivery was sloppy at times, but the enthusiasm and the overall message about important of theater in a “post-truth” political climate was appreciated by the audience. Then the band played us in to the main event.
The program started with two solid comedic pieces. Big Momma Charlotte by Ali el-Gasseir and Jonah Van Spreecken is a Mighty Boosh-esque adventure story about three women trying to save Martis Gras. To do this, they need to obtain the tooth of Big Momma Charlotte, the biggest, baddest gator in the swamp, depicted by a crowd-pleasing giant cardboard gator head with light-up eyes. Director Harry Todd Jamieson gets the tone exactly right, and the piece leaves everyone clapping along to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” First Op by Clayton Weller keeps the ball rolling with a spy story that that gets better with each twist. It’s less weird, but equally fun, and features a cast with great comedic timing.
The third show on the bill, Darian Lindle’s Last Ascent is comparatively weak. Despite a strong performance by David Hseih as a bird mentor, the play’s message doesn’t land. What is clearly supposed to be an inspiring message about following your dreams feels like we’re listening in on the writer’s pep talk to himself about his career choices. But material that takes itself at all seriously is hard to pull off with so little rehearsal time, and the clever design keeps this piece watchable.
Hoo is Watching Hoo by Nick Edwards takes our theme in a completely different direction. The story of owls on night patrol takes place in a weird, whimsical, Looney Tunes-style world. The actors, with the help of some fantastic owl costumes, completely sell their over-the-top characters. This piece took a minute or two to win me over, but became my favorite segment of the show’s first act.
Act Two opens with Jim Jewell’s Ask Not for Whom the Watch Ticks, by far the weakest piece of the show. It opens strong with some interesting props and brutal insult comedy, but devolves into a Discussion About An Issue. The argument, delivered with very weak dialogue between watchmaking students and a visitor to their program, about the relevance of watchmaking is an obvious metaphor for the relevance of theater. The play has no plot, and takes itself incredibly seriously. Like Last Ascent, Ask Not feels like the writer’s attempt to justify his pursuit of playwrighting to himself and the audience. But where the earlier piece felt like a pep talk, this has the same vibe as a drunken, self-pitying rant. I feel bad for the clearly talented cast who got stuck with this material.
Jackals by Brandon Felker is far and away the funniest and most fun play of the night. It’s the story of ‘70s cops, who put the “’70s” in “’70s” in and the “cops” in “cops,” on a stakeout. The cast (Hattie Claire Andres, Dave Clapper, and Kevin Bordi) have great comic chemistry. The skillful, hilarious way they deal with their fake-moustache-based wardrobe malfunctions makes the show even more hilarious. Jackals wouldn’t feel out of place on a TV sketch show, and showcases some local talent worth watching.
The night closes strongly with Julia Nardin’s What Remains. This story about ghosts preventing some hipsters from buying the house they haunt left me legitimately unsettled. Bobbin Ramsey’s smart directing, the incredible costumes (especially the aspects that reveal how the ghosts were murdered), and the skilled performances result in a production you would never guess had been prepared in less than a day.
I highly recommend seeing these artists perform a new set of short plays tonight at 8 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. on their new theme, “Taking a Shot.” If you can’t make it, make sure to get tickets for next weekend’s shows, when you can see a new group accomplish on the same impressive feat. The 14/48 Project may be a challenge for the artists, but it’s a lot of fun for the audience.
The 14/48 Project. Gregory Fall Theatre, ACT – A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, 98101. Fri-Sat, Jan 6-14, 8 pm and 10:30 pm. Tickets: http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/1448#Tickets Info: http://the1448projects.org/ or 206-292-7676.
Edit: After an email from a reader, I reworded the ninth paragraph of this review to make it absolutely clear that the first play of Act 2 had the FEEL of a drunken rant. I did not mean to insinuate in any way that it literally was one. – R.E. Parker, 1/8/2017, 10:24 p.m.