One-act play festivals are always fun. Although the success of the individual pieces varies, the diversity of material usually provides a winner or two.
When the short plays are all original, as they are in the Orange Coast College Repertory Theatre Company's one-act lineup, a sense of discovery adds to the fun. Of nine plays presented over the course of two weekends, the four this reviewer saw provide good examples.
Each of the performances, which continue today through Sunday, is a mixed bag. No two involve the same pieces.
Last Sunday's matinee opened with Bruce Brown's "Will Work for JAH," a one-man piece performed and directed by the author. It's a fascinating piece of writing, which might be more successful read on a page, but Brown's vivid performance brings it to life.
JAH, the program explains, is "the name that carries the power of the Almighty." The monologue is part prayer, part rich poetry, part sermon. The repeated phrase "Everybody say 'harmony' " gives it a sort of neo-fundamentalist classical aura that is fascinating.
Brown's intent is not always clear, but the piece shows that he knows how to deal with words--dense though they may be--and how to create a performance with a hypnotic appeal.
Chris Secor's "After One," performed by Secor and his director, Rebecca Muhleman, was the highlight of this program, in which a young man is awakened after 1 p.m. by his sister, who announces she has been abused by her boyfriend.
After discussing this briefly, she blankly asks him whether this is going to be a relationship play, letting the audience know that the characters are aware they are in a play.
It's a gimmick, one that George M. Cohan used throughout his career, called "intra-theatricality." Secor's characters discuss how the play will be developed and what might or might not happen in it.
It's a lot of dramatic fun, and Secor also shows a delicious comic flair for acting, as the sensitive brother; Muhleman's direction is on the nose for this frothy material. At one point the sister says, "This would make a good play." It does.
In Hugh Goodearl's "Bayside Apartments," a young man who has forgotten the first anniversary of his relationship is on a rooftop declaiming his dire fate when another young man on the roof breaks into a monologue and draws the first man's attention away from his overstated problem.
In Goodearl's gentle, often wise, play, the volatile boyfriend is calmed by the other's quiet, rational description of an accident, caused by his own girlfriend, that left him permanently blinded. In the brief span of time, both men are changed, and they bond with a frank warmth that is touching. Directed by Alex Golson, Paul Secrest as the thoughtless male, and Kurt Jarrard as his blind acquaintance, give sure, honest and appealing performances.
The fourth and longest piece was "Robin Hood," subtitled "the TRUE story . . . well not really." Written by Dawn Gordon and Cricket Selna, and directed by Selna, it gives no hint about any valid intent as a play.
Most of it is silly, the humor is juvenile, Selna's direction is choppy and the performances are sketchy at best. This Robin Hood and Merry Band should stay in the dark of the forest until they grow up.
1999 Original Play Festival, Drama Lab, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday. $5-$6. Ends Sunday. (714) 432-5640, Ext. 1. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.