Orange County's experimental writers workshop, New Voices, has been presenting its one-weekend evenings of 10-minute plays at the Theatre District in Costa Mesa for about a year, and it's time to go back and see how the group is doing.
The first couple of evenings looked a lot like a collection of television comedy sketches. That happens with new playwrights, raised on the fodder of television. This new evening, called "A 10-Minute Vacation," shows a lot of growth. The plays are still mostly television skits, but the quality has improved greatly. The work still doesn't seem totally original or inventive, but the new sense of import is encouraging.
The closest piece to a play in this evening is called "Rain." Yes, there already was a "Rain," based on Somerset Maugham's short story "Miss Thompson," and the subject is in the same ballpark. It's about the failure of a lifestyle.
Paul and Cory have been married 10 years. Paul has lost his executive position, but Cory has become a successful novelist. They are separated but still vacation together as friends. During a downpour in Hawaii, they find out they still want to be together. The play has great possibilities if playwright John Lane wants to delve deeper into the relationship, and could even make a full-length drama.
Autumn Browne directs "Rain" with tenderness and some interesting insights into a marriage that's on the rocks but might be saved. Paul Castellano and Gigi Parker are excellent as the couple, looking disenchanted at the same time they're renewing their passion.
The only loser in the evening is Gina Shaffer's dumb and silly "Paradise Lost and Found," about an aging Adam and Eve vacationing in Miami Beach, being gross along with a Hollywood-type Moses, a cluck of a Noah and a gratuitously oily Ed McMahon. Claire Kirk as Eve and David Shein as Adam for some reason have offensively stereotypical Yiddish accents, and the others have so little theatrical class they shouldn't even be mentioned.
The performances of Debbie Conroy, as a distraught wife, and Jack Millis, as an equally distraught husband, in an automobile on the road give Amity Westcott's "Road Kill," a one-joke sketch about boredom on vacation, some laughs. But St. James couldn't make it more than the "Saturday Night Live" bit it is.
New Voices founder Chris Trela's "South Rim," about the chance meeting of a guy and girl at the Grand Canyon, is charming if inconsequential. Christina Leach's Woman and Jason Esquerra's Man deal in puns and pseudo-hip mystical palaver, both desperately trying to toss memories of failed romances into the canyon. Under Trela's direction, their appeal almost makes it work. Still a sketch, but getting closer to a play.
Stephen Ludwig's "Vacation Escape" is like a moment out of a Marx Brothers flick, with Jay Fraley as an escapee from a mental hospital who literally steals a tropical vacation from a dumb corporate type. Fraley is very funny and his comic timing makes it work for what it is. Castellano's dumb executive is standard-issue.
The cleverness of Michael Buss' "A Slight Exaggeration," directed by Sean Gallagher as lucidly as could be done, needs stronger actors than April Wade, Alex Dorman and Jo Black-Jacob to bring Buss' very sophisticated word play alive.
Robin Schupp's "Friendly Skies," directed with abandon by Sharyn Case and acted with as much abandon by Fraley and Stacey Stallard, out-sketches the evening's other offerings and makes such a small point about air travel that a stewardess could carry it away in a paper cup.
The eighth offering, Tom Swimm's "Summer Solstice," about a widow and her husband's best friend planning a future of memories, could be a touching full-length play, but it doesn't work as this brief note. It looks as good as it can in this form, under Gallagher's leisurely direction, and with Sue Halverson as the taut widow and Paul Vidales as the friend.
* "A 10-Minute Vacation," Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Closed. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
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"A 10-Minute Vacation,"
Stacey Stallard: Amy
Jay Fraley: Matt/Joey
April Wade: Linda
Alex Dorman: Charles
Jo Black-Jacob: Mom
Sue Halverson: Linda
Paul Vidales: Martin
Jason Esquerra: Ben/Man
Paul Castellano: Angelo/Paul/Moses
Debbie Conroy: Sara
Jack Millis: Marty
Christina Leach: Woman
Gigi Parker: Cory
David Shein: Adam
Claire Kirk: Eve
A New Voices production. Directed by Sharyn Case, Sean Gallagher, Sara St. James, Chris Trela, Autumn Browne. Scenic design: Sean Gallagher, Michael Buss. Lighting: Joe Koonce. Sound: Ron Castro. Stage manager: Michael Buss.