The Browncoat Pub and Theatre finishes their 2016 season with a showcase of original short plays titled “Amazing Wonder Shorts.” Page to Stage—a writing and producing company that meets at Cameron Art Museum and is dedicated to helping playwrights refine their work and find venues for production—produced the showcase. The Browncoat seems to be a logical fit for something of this nature: They have produced monologue and scene showcases in the past, in addition to several nights of one-acts. Plus, they continuously produce full-length original scripts as part of their seasons.
The evening consists of five short pieces: “All The World’s A Stage” by Wes Neville, directed by Marie Chonko; “A Good Old Fashioned Séance,” written and directed by Josh Bailey; “Zero In” by Craig Kittner and Ron Hasson, directed by Ken Vest; “Memories,” written and directed by Richard Fife; and “Hide” by Chase Harrison and directed by Craig Kittner.
Far and away my favorite piece of the evening is “A Good Old Fashioned Séance.” Brandy Jones brings a friend (Shawn Sproatt) to the house she and her husband abandoned, following the car accident that killed their 7-year-old daughter. Apparently, she hired the most clearly fraudulent television medium imaginable (Bradley Coxe) to help them contact her deceased child (Meredith Stanton).
Bailey employs multiple plot twists and really fleshes out the arc nicely. Jones, Sproatt and Coxe spin and whirl, as his text pulls their strings, and they really do turn in compelling performances. Coxe, especially, gets to have fun with this character for whom nothing is “too big.” But when the real plot twist comes, he truly sells his change of heart for us. Stanton’s character is given an almost impossible situation to respond to, but she still manages to tug at the audience’s heart strings.
Richard Fife’s “Memories” is an interesting concept. It is more of a writing experiment than anything else. A vignette about a conversation between Josh Bailey and Mariah Gomez—and how it is remembered—plays out literally forward and in reverse. Bailey and Gomez really illustrate the differences in the way we choose to remember ourselves and our reactions, and the way others do, quite well.
The evening begins with “All The World’s A Stage,” which flirts with breaking the fourth wall between the audience and the stage. It is not the strongest piece of the evening writing-wise, but it does set a tone that all things are not necessarily as they seem. Brandy Jones and Kristina Daniel popping up in unexpected ways adds an interesting touch to prepares us for an evening where anything might be possible.
I saw the work-in-progress reading of “Zero In” over the summer, and I have to admit: The new additional material doesn’t really help the piece. Kristina Daniel and Bradley Coxe open with a discussion of watching the world end on a beach while at a business conference. Breaking the fourth wall with the writer’s voices (portrayed by Jamie Davenport and James Wojcik) is an interesting touch. But the spiraling of their relationship is not really germane to the piece. Wojcik seems to see whining as his major tool for communicating with his best friend. However, visually Jessica Hall’s St. Pauli Girl costume and Coxe’s sheep ensemble are both pure gold.
Chase Harrison’s “Hide” is a great piece with which to end the evening. Jamie Davenport, a drug addict with a bag full of interesting dependencies (literally), checks into a motel to talk with an old friend (James Wojcik). The conversation that unfolds is Wojcik’s better work of the evening: He does well with wheedling and manipulating, pleading and maneuvering. Davenport really is beyond caring, beaten down to a point that he is no longer responding to anything or anyone.
Watching him wind a tourniquet had me ruminating on David Foster Wallace and his incredibly detailed descriptions of just how a vein can bulge in an arm. Every time he looked down in mild disbelief at his arm, I had to wonder how many times Wallace did just that. But this scene feels more like a scene of a larger piece; there is clearly a considerable backstory that led to this room.
“Amazing Wonder Stories” offers an opportunity to see art in evolution. None of these pieces seem like finished, stand-alone products. They all have a test flight quality to them—a certain amount of fear, excitement and lift off, yet still a few bugs need to be worked out. Part of what makes living here exciting is the opportunity to see our arts community as it grows, develops and tries new possibilities. Clearly, “Amazing Wonder Shorts” doesn’t have the kind of name recognition that “A Christmas Carol” or “Santaland Diaries” does. It also, doesn’t have the refined, finished edges of those shows. But it does have a verve and determination that makes live theatre exciting and fun.
I hope as Page to Stage continues to grow, the work-shopping process will produce increasingly developed scripts. I hope this is just a taste of more to come in 2016. It is terrifying to put original words on a stage (trust me, I know and understand that). Theatre, more than any other medium, needs the refining process of seeing and hearing the script on stage for each major round of revisions. Page to Stage offers local writers an opportunity to do exactly that with works-in-progress, and that is a truly invaluable opportunity for a playwright.