The Strand Theater is featuring its third annual Friends & Neighbors Festival, now running through June 19th featuring new works from "emerging playwrights" (thus sayeth the press release), this year featuring seven plays, six by women.
The series is an audition of sorts as Strand audiences are encouraged to give their feedback to choose one play or "double-bill" (two short plays performed together with similar scenic/prop elements, costuming and lights) to be produced for the Strand's upcoming fourth season.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to take in the double-bill of "Unlimited Nights" by Sean Pomposello and "Such Good Neighbors" by Susan Middaugh.
Each takes place in a bedroom, late at night, the latter involving a wife too obsessed with the neighbors' bickering to take notice of her own husband; the former, how incessant late night phone calls call into question a boyfriend's fidelity.
To help audience members select a play or plays for future production, The Strand supplies an "audience evaluation form," copies of which will be shared with each playwright. Instead of my usual style of review, I've decided to let this form shape my critique:
Would you like to see this play receive a full production at the Strand?
Yes to both. Both plays featured an engaging mix of comedy and tragedy, where the simple act of answering a phone could destroy a relationship, where what begins as a happy marriage twists toward adultery and murder by play's end.
Why? What did you like about it?
In addition to the plays being succinct, well-written and paced, the acting was superb. 20something Dave Shoemaker, a last minute fill-in for the male role in both short plays (Scott/Walter), found himself in the awkward position of having to play boyfriend to his real-life sister, Kate Shoemaker in "Unlimited Nights" and playing a much older, South-accented retiree in "Such Good Neighbors" and acquitted himself exceptionally in both parts.
Both Ms. Shoemaker (Lucy, Unlimited Nights) and Jill Colucci (Mavis, Such Good Neighbors) brought high energy to their roles; one could feel the tension as Lucy battled her own doubts with her desire to trust her boyfriend while Mavis is clearly blinded to the erosion of her own marriage due to her addiction to her neighbors' domestic woes.
Did the play engage you?
Yes, there's not a lot of exposition. Both plays draw you in immediately with a ringing phone and arguing neighbors serving as a catalyst for each bedroom-plays' action.
Did you empathize with the characters?
While both plays were only about 10-15 minutes in length, each playwright did a masterful job in developing characters the audience could relate to by focusing in on issues that are basic to all of us--trust, love, doubt, the need for attention, and various forms of human weakness.
Could any parts of the play be added to? Cut?
I felt both plays have the potential for expansion as it would have been interesting to learn more about the relationships between Lucy and Scott, Mavis and Walter, but both plays were engaging at their current length.
Which character or situation would you like to learn more about?
Typically, a ringing phone is not enough to destroy a relationship--which makes me think there were other issues building up to the final moment of "Unlimited Nights". What issues? What was going on between Lucy and Scott that led to this moment? Similarly, in "Such Good Neighbors," Walter's sudden emotional outburst, just moments after musing softly about his tomato plants, reveals there's been turmoil brewing just below the surface of his relationship with wife, Mavis. What was this relationship like before Walter retired?
If there was an additional character in the play, who would it be and why?
I never felt that an additional character was needed in the play--there are plenty in each when you think about it. The ringing phone is a character in "Unlimited Nights," as are the bickering though unseen neighbors in "Such Good Neighbors."
What do you remember? It could be an image, a feeling, a sound or line of dialogue.
I liked how the phone rang at the end of "Unlimited Nights." In a sense, it is the character that undergoes the most development in the play-first, a simple annoyance...second, a litmus test for a relationship's future...finally, an accusation, a judgment with which Lucy must bear as the result of her own actions.
What surprised you? What didn't you expect to happen?
At the close of "Such Good Neighbors," there's a gunshot, and Walter shouts out the first name of the woman next door--was Walter having an affair? There's much to ponder at the close of the two plays, though short in length, they are long in material for further discussion and development.