[Note: This review updated Feb 28 with the closing show of the Festival. Scroll down if you’ve read the first weekend’s review.]
Launched in 1997, the 14/48 Festival is the brainchild of Michael Neff and Jodi-Paul Wooster. It invites talented theater folks to two weekends of high risk, intensely collaborative yet ephemeral theater-making. 14/48 participants mix, mingle, and network. And all of Seattle theater is the better for it.
14/48 plays with Chance, Choice, and Performance. For a full description of the process and to view 14/48: The Documentary visit their website. In brief, this is how it rolls: everything that can be randomized, is. The choice of the theme is randomly selected for invitees’ suggestions, seven writers select a random mix of characters to compose their play around, seven directors randomly select which play they will produce with randomly selected actors. The pacing is brutal. The writers turned in their plays 12 hours after the theme was selected, at 8 AM Friday. The directors, casts, costume, musicians, and tech crews rehearse their plays for 12 hours. The preview is the 8 PM show, the Opening Night and closing night performance is the 10:30 show. The 8 PM audience selects the theme for the whole process to be repeated on Saturday. Thus you get fourteen plays in forty-eight hours.
First Weekend: Young Guns
This first weekend featured the Young Guns, invited participants under the age of 35. The theme picked for Friday night was “And this Too Shall Pass” and on Saturday for the performances I saw the theme was “Expiration Date.”
Creativity is unleashed, sometimes with startling results, which can be good or bad. Here are the titles and settings of the seven plays I saw:
|The Way Back||Refrigerator|
|Not Today||Starbucks Counter|
|My Li’l Peanut||Pregnant Woman’s Den|
|The Swift and the Dead||Taylor Swift’s Mouth|
|The Evil Witch Leadbelly||Child’s Bedroom|
|Salvation at the Trailer Park Door||Yard of a trailer|
|Tuesday Night||Nursing Home|
In the spirit of the magic of chance, here are quick comments on some of these plays, selected at random.
Writer. Courtney Meaker wrote the last play of the evening, Tuesday Night, and Emily Harvey directed it. This 10 minute skit set in a nursing home examined how playfully enacting their deaths was really preparing four cribbage playing friends for the inevitable. Good script for the director and players to work with. Meaker writes well, and the script had both humor and pathos, physical and well as verbal humor.
Play. The Way Back, written by Ben McFadden and directed by Kathryn Stewart. This play kicked off the evening and was really fun to watch. The premise is the literal “expiration date” that one finds on processed foods. The way back is where things are pushed and then languish in the fridge. The costumes were wide hoop tubes that resembled food and beer cans, or a floor length cardboard box for the 2 percent milk. In 10 minutes we witnessed a flirtation, a murder of the king of the way back (a long forgotten Rainier beer), a break-up for a new love interest (guacamole left the mild salsa for his hotter rival), an expiration (the milk, natch), and new hope because an expiration date is later than first though,t and the assumption of power by a new leader of the ‘way back’ section of the fridge.
Director. The Swift and the Dead, directed by Robb Raas-Bergquist and written by Quinn Armstrong. The setting for this play was some type of telephone marketing insurance sales office that inhabited Taylor Swift’s mouth. Forensic evidence points to the strong likelihood that the writer came up with the title first and then wrote a play to match it. Raas-Bergquist had the misfortune to draw this play. Raas-Bergquist did a terrific job directing Beckett’s Endgame for Ghost Light Theatricals last fall. The Swift and the Dead, however, had several challenges that even the animated and intense performances Rass-Bergquist extracted from his actors couldn’t overcome. I wish him better luck next time.
Actors. The Evil Witch Leadbelly by Wesley K Andrews, directed by Emma Watt. The players were Zoey Cane Belyea, Lauryn Hochberg, Kerri Brown Wooster, and Monica Wulzen. This play was literally all over the place. It had the stillness of bedroom storytime and the sweaty exertions of escape and chase scenes. The director and actors had to contend with a script that wasn’t clear about the expiration date in question. Because of how quickly the playbill is thrown together, it doesn’t list which characters the actors played. I felt several of the actors could have projected more, especially if they were playing a sinister role such as a Witch who kidnaps a child. The alcoholic mother giving chase was almost too relaxed and nonchalant. This could be a direction choice and not the actor’s. They needn’t have been afraid to ramp up her anger.
Music. I’m adding this as a wild card pick. The recorded selections were lively, and the on stage band did terrific work providing scene music, sound effects, and musical entertainment during set changes. Live music certainly dials up the energy and adds yet another element to work into the productions.
Second Weekend: Old School
How will the the Old School players compare against their younger colleagues? Seasoned 14/48 audience members wanted to know. Right on time, the lights were up and we found out.
Jodi-Paul Wooster in his opening comments said that the 8 PM show is the Preview and the 10:30 is Opening Night. Some of the actors really didn’t know what their plays were about or how their lines worked to get across the writer’s intentions until they heard the audience’s reactions. Those were moments of truth, as it were, that would help them convey the evening’s theme: “A Moment of Truth.” The theme Friday night was “Rotten to the Core.”
Here are the Old School play titles and settings:
|The Kindest Man||Living room|
|Some Sisters||at a table|
|Hi Honey, I’m Home||living room|
|Alone||suburban street corner|
|Our Hypothetical Future||living room|
There were some clear difference in how the more mature thespians faced their challenge. Six of the seven plays were reasonably realistic. Plus, six plays had no smart phones. The evening taken altogether felt more substantial.
As I did with the Young Guns, I have randomly selected plays for quick comments.
Writer. Alone by Scot Augustson, directed by Stan Shields. Scot has been writing plays for 14/48 since its inception in 1997. Someone dies and the neighbors gossip and react to the event. The writing was unsurprising: a housewife clipping her hedges, a man walking his dog, and a woman jogger recount their history with the woman who died. Could they have been more caring? When exactly did they last see her? With a little more time Scot might have sharpened the contrasts of the characters’ reflections on mortality and neighborliness. He also could have found the play’s clear moment of truth.
Play. Our Hypothetical Future, by Scotto Moore, directed by Kelly Kitchens. This 10 minute production about love and commitment in a menage-a-trois (two women and a man) has a decent balance of lines for the actors. The blocking worked and the use of props was held to a minimum. There were some funny lines and interesting dialogue as the three worked through the meaning and implications of his moving in with the women.
I’ll comment here, also, on Some Sisters by Karen Hartman, directed by Cindy Bradder. It opened with three sisters in late 19th century dress sitting at a table with a couple of vodka bottles. The opening line: “We are not going to Moscow” immediately tells us that this will be a riff on Chekhov. There were many clever lines such as: “I act like an idiot because it’s easier.” And, “When you take what’s mine I feel important.” The youngest sister’s monologue—which she delivered standing in the spotlight—about being free and having a life story still that is yet a blank page drew applause from the audience. Hartman, a graduate of the Yale Drama School and on the faculty at the UW, has chops. Well done.
Acting. Honey, I’m Home by K. Brian Neel, directed by Kerry Christianson. It is fitting to review the acting in this play because it had a cast of five: Mark Boeker, Jill Snyder Marr, Jennifer Jasper, and James Weldman. This play explores how this loving poly-amorous household reacts when one member wants to break up because … she’s found The One. The actors were called upon to show feelings of affection and love for each other as well as bewilderment, shock, surprise and other feelings when they learned that one of them was leaving for The One. Reasonably clear performances that was a delight to watch.
Director. Cake by Kelleen Conway-Blanchard, directed by Tim Hyland. This play is about two people in a studio apartment talking about their failed relationship. The man enters his studio apartment and makes a peanut butter sandwich which he starts to eat before discovering a woman, his ex it turns out, sitting in a chair, bleeding from glass cuts. She’s cut up because she broke a window to climb inside to wait for him to come home. The moment of truth is when the man reveals that he slept with his ex’s sister, “maybe 11 or 12 times.” Why? the woman wants to know. Because the sister was going through a rough patch and “sex cheers people up” he said. Hyland’s direction provided movement and bits to keep this from turning into two people rooted in place exchanging their lines.
Music. The 14/48 Band played well. They kicked off a bit too loud, but settled back and kept us entertained during breaks for set changes. They offered several members turns at lead vocals or instrumental solos. Music was not incorporated as much into the plays as the Young Guns managed to do last week.
14/48: The World’s Quickest Theatre Festival—Young Guns vs Old School. A 14/48 Project production. Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center. Performances Feb 20 & 21; plus Feb 27 & 28 at 8 PM and 10:30 PM. Information about future festivals at the1448projects.org. Closed Feb. 28.