Michael Neff and Jodi-Paul Wooster organized their first 14/48 Festival in 1997 as a one-time event. Now in its 20th year, 14/48: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival lives up to its billing. If you know how a pressure cooker works you understand the physics. Invited theater artists (complete list here) assembled Thursday evening and opened a keg of beer. Everyone was invited complete the sentence: “I would like to see 7 plays about ______” on slips and drop them into the Cone of Destiny. The slips were mixed well, and one selected: “Life Doesn’t Discriminate.” Then 7 writers randomly draw a character list and now felt the pressure building as they had to return with a finished 10-minute play by 8 AM Friday. One writer from a previous festival commented that she had to compress months of procrastination into just a few hours.
Seven directors randomly selected which play he or she would direct and the actors for each play were also selected at random. The director, cast, tech crews, and musicians now had 12 hours to produce a finished play: one with lines memorized, costumes, sets, and technical cues worked out. Can you feel the heat and pressure building? Sometimes cruel writers even include musical numbers, so there might be songs and dances to work on. Friday’s 8 PM show was Opening Night. That audience picked Saturday’s theme: “The Best of Times.” Friday’s 10:30 PM show was closing night for the first round. The same set of artists take up the new theme for the Saturday shows. At 8 AM this morning the 7 writers dropped 7 more plays and the pressure cycled through again. Tonight at 8 PM those plays had their World Premieres. Thus 14 plays were produced in 48 hours. For the official description of the process and to view 14/48: The Documentary visit their website.
Sat. Jan 14th 10:30 PM Performances
The Theme for the night: “It was the Best of Times.” Overall, the writing was much sharper and the plots held together much better than Friday night. Friday was the writers’ juvenilia material and Saturday night showed their mature works. Amazing what a day can do for one’s abilities.
Touch Me I’m Sick by Joe Zavadil, Directed by Neil Reading. Three former friends, two women and a man, happen to cross paths at a Mudhoney concert and recall their former glory days of secret hot sex. Now, one has gone corporate handling click-through tallies for Disney, one still bar tends on Capitol Hill, and one was a house husband for a bit before sinking back into his drug addiction. His life unraveled before he knew what hit him. One of the women really enjoyed the sex and wonders if they could … no, it’s not going to happen again. Their best hot times are behind them. A funny send-up on the reunion idea.
Damn, Mama, by Seayoung Kim, directed by Desiree Prewitt. A matriarch of an Italian family with three sons gather to celebrate the birthday of Mama’s favorite. Two of the brothers get into a tussle and Erin Bednarz, as the mother, breaks it up with one of the longest theatrical farts on record—with musical accompaniment! Her favorite arrived with an idea: philanthropy to save the world while giving away their fortune. The other brothers and Mama don’t take to it, but the family reaches a compromise. When the favorite leaves early, Mama undermines the agreement.
Fries before Guys by Nelle Tankus, directed by Mark Fullerton. A woman working at the fast-food chain of “Trump-McDonald’s ‘trademark'” takes a break in the john. Her concerned associate pleads with her to return to work, but she waxes poetic about Dick’s french fries instead. Sharing Dick’s french fries with here family were some of the best times in her life. Her gun-toting boss, Macall Gordon as Marlenia Trump in a gold evening gown, finds her eating her rival’s fries and shoots her and the associate. The three close the play with a song and dance about “Trump-McDonald’s ‘trademark.'”
Choice by Stefan Hajek, directed by Stan Shields. Very funny play about a lesbian daughter bringing home her wife/lover to meet the folks. Good use of visual comedy props and general ensemble acting in this one. The lover came with an ice cooler with five plastics cups—sperm from men of different races and nationalities. The physical comedy of the parent’s leaping from the table worked perfectly. This comic-drama gave Sara Trowbridge space to act and she expertly filled it. Even during a stretch when her character had few lines you could see her being torn between the love of her parents and a different type of love for her partner. The directing by Stan Shields made this one of the best plays of the evening.
The Spring of Hope by Jessica Chisum, directed by Kelly Kitchens. A father and his two adult sons appear to have lived their whole lives on the streets. A woman approaches them, and after the father warily allows her to stick around, she soothes the sons with stories of a treehouse in the “tallest tree in her yard” and a story of a loving bird tending to the needs of her offspring that morphs into a story about mothering children. The father softens some. In the glare of the light of hope, their best of times appear to be in their futures.
Inheritance by Kelleen Conway Blanchard, directed by Corey McDaniel. In this mother with son two-person play, Val Brunetto stars as a scientist who is dying from a disease her experiments on herself have failed to cure. She tells her son how she met his father while doing research in Africa. “When I first saw him he was riding a lion.” She seduces him by smearing her body with crocodile fat and slipping nude into his tent. “Back then,” she told him, “I had breasts that would make men weep.” For her pathetic, lonely, weakling of a son she’s created a companion: a blonde woman’s head in a jar. She gets her son to promise to “always keep her wet.” Kudos to Blanchard for this sparkling script.
A Tale of Two Cindys by Scot Augustson, directed by Pamela Mijatov. A woman recounts a tale to a pair of men sitting at a bar. The two Cindys are sisters, and grow jealous of one another. At first they mime the actions of the story, but when they don’t like something they strike back with a story about the people in the bar, who then act the reverse story. A story versus story play and a sly commentary of the interaction between creative artists and their work. Like the woman in the bar commented, “this story got away from me.”
Fri. Jan 13th 10:30 PM Performance
The theme for the night: “Life Doesn’t Discriminate.” I found it interesting that every piece included death or some hint of dying. Here are my takes:
Brimstone by Jessica Chisum, directed by Corey McDaniel. Three recently dead are tied to stakes and are being lightly roasted. A minor demon arrives to say due to lack of space in Hell, two of them will have to return to life. One of the dead resorts to eviscerating the demon to secure her “ticket” to hell. Odd premise, but musical backup with occasional sound and lighting effects, cross dressing, and energetic acting made it fun to watch.
Dirt by Nelle Tankus, directed by Mark Fullerton. Role reversal play with a pregnant male adult sib hashing out his parental options with his sisters. Somehow it becomes his desire to do his own C-section, and from his swollen belly dirt comes out.
How I’ll Remember You by Seayoung Yim, directed by Stan Shields. A two-person play about a couple on a inter-planetary road trip. He loves her, she’s content to be just friends. He wants to “be inside her” and after he dies from a mysterious plague disease his ghost persuades her to eat him.
Six of One by Joe Zavadil, directed by Pamela Mijatov. Jodi Paul Wooster, co-founder of 14/48 made an appearance, appropriately enough, as God. He’s holding a debate among extinct animals—an ibex, a saber-tooth tiger, a T-Rex, and a dodo bird—to determine which will have another chance at life via genetic cloning. Turns out the dodo is not so dumb.
As the lights dimmed on Act 1 to signal intermission, Justin Huertes sang “Wait for It” from Hamilton which has the line “life doesn’t discriminate.” Speaking of the eight-piece band, it is terrific to have live musical back-up for several of the plays. They also sang original songs and covers to open and close the evening and during scene changes.
Curtain Down 2016 by Stefan Hajek, directed by Neil Reading. New Year’s Eve, and a family is held hostage at gunpoint by the adult daughter’s date. He demands that they share what they were “thankful” for, even though it wasn’t Thanksgiving. That’s not sufficient enough to divert him from his path to self-destruction. Before he walks out of their life, and life altogether, he brought them in touch with their own private miseries.
Life by Scot Augustson, directed by Kelly Kitchens. Some weird stuff has happened politically, and a grandson has joined his grandparents to wait out the SWAT Team’s visit. For old times sake, they take out the photo album one last time and reminisce. Nothing from the photo album indicates they were friends of the masses or enemies of the police state. When the arrival of the SWAT police is imminent, they prepare to blow up the whole house.
The Coyote Sadness by Kelleen Conway Blanchard, directed by Desiree Prewitt. Prewitt, working with one of the larger casts of the evening, actually dialed down the pacing compared to many of the other plays tonight. This play is set in a saloon in the Old West. Every line seemed to hover in the air. José Amador, a 14/48 virgin, delivered some of the drollest—and funniest—lines. He ordered shots of prune juice (the only other option was whiskey) to help move “that full feeling he had inside.” He also feels great loneliness when he hears coyotes (he pronounced it ki-YOKES) howl in the night. One of the working girls in the saloon had shot out the eye of Small Sam. The sheriff is looking for her. Sam eventually arrives with a patch over one bleeding eye. His remaining eye is looking for justice. Everyone ends up shot dead, but Small Sam rises to close out the evening with a song. The other members of the cast sing the chorus while lying on the floor. Surprise!
If you can, go see one of the closing shows on Sat. Jan. 14 (8 PM and 10:30 PM). As Blanchard said in an interview in Encore Arts Seattle:
Did you see the last 14/48 Festival? … It’s always insane and spectacular and terrifying for all of the artists. But fear is good for art. And in 14/48, the fear is right on you all of the time, holding your hand, snarling in your ear. That terror makes good theater.
14/48: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival. A 14/48 Project production. ACT Theater: Gregory Falls Theater. Downtown, 700 Union Street. Jan 6, 7, 13, & 14; 8 PM & 10:30 PM. Info: the1448projects.org. Tickets: ACT Theater. Closed Jan 14.