"Six at Eight" spotlights the three winners of the West Coast Ten-Minute Play Contest, now in its fifth year at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano.
This batch of one-acts, picked from submissions from around the country, are neither wonderful nor woebegone. They're interesting but often betray the weakness of the form, which places exacting demands on any playwright.
With a full-length drama or comedy, both writer and audience have room to move. Characters and story can develop; connections can be made. With a one-act, especially one with a 10-minute limit, we'd better connect fast.
Harlene Goodrich of Seal Beach, the first-place winner for "Gene Tierney's Hat," could make us feel more attached to Clifford (Tony Grande) and Bernice (Tricia Jordan-LaRue), a couple having a relatively subdued but pointed, secrets-revealing conversation in the dining room of the Sunset Manor retirement home.
It's clear Goodrich is examining the quality of the couple's relationship, especially its shades of regret, loss and anger, but the duo is too oblique and strangely impersonal. Abi Estrin's direction and the actors' performances are measured but lack the depth to find the intimacy that may be hiding in Goodrich's script.
New York City playwright Daniel Meltzer's "Sunday in Suburbia," the second-place winner, is more original, although its absurdism is derivative of both Christopher Durang and Eugene Ionesco. Charlie DeNatale plays Stu, a salesman preparing to head to work from the pleasant home he shares with wife Phyllis (Leslie Williams).
Then odd things begin to happen. Stu can't figure out why Michael (Scott Cunningham), Phyllis' "handyman," is now living with them and apparently performing, ah, services that Stu used to. Domestic harmony is ticklish, and a little creepy, as directed by Ian Downs.
Third place goes to Seattle resident David Drummond's comedy "Compost in the Machine." It's the most vivid of the offerings but the least involving. An anti-technology office wonk (Christian M. Holiday) goes off, sabotaging computers and other equipment while a colleague (DeNatale) fumes in disbelief. Director Christopher Trela can't prevent this one from slipping into the familiar and cliched.
In addition to getting staged productions of their works, the winners received $100, $75 and $50 for first, second and third prizes, respectively.
Also on the bill are three published playlets by better known writers.
Christopher Durang's "Mrs. Sorken," directed by Kerene Cogan, starts "Six at Eight" and is a mostly funny take on how difficult it can be for one person to communicate to another.
In John J. Wooten's "The Role of Della," directed by Vince Campbell, two actresses (Debbie Sperry and Della Lisi) viciously but amusingly vie for a job.
The evening closes with Laura Cunningham's "Flop Cop," directed by Tom Scott. Brian Page is a cop on the theater beat investigating a writer (B. Aaron Cogan) who's having a painfully rough time finishing his drama. Silly but clever, it leaves the viewer with a bit of sympathy for the playwrights and plays that have come before.
* "Six at Eight," Camino Real Playhouse, 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $10. Ends June 27. (949) 552-6256. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
A South Orange County Community Theatre production of short plays by Harlene Goodrich, Daniel Meltzer, David Drummond, Christopher Durang, John J. Wooten and Laura Cunningham. Directed by Kerene Cogan, Abi Estrin, Ian Downs, Vince Campbell, Christopher Trela and Tom Scott. Starring Marnelle Ross, Tony Grande, Debbie Sperry, Tricia Jordan-LaRue, Leslie Williams, Charlie DeNatale, Scott Cunningham, Della Lisi, Heide Janssen, Christian M. Holiday, Brian Page and B. Aaron Cogan. Light, sound and sets: Tom Scott, Jo LaMasa, Don Alexander, Tom Roden, Ian Downs, Leslie Williams, Tracy Forbath and Jill Forbath Roden. Producer: Forbath Roden. Advisor: Don Took.