By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
Fortune cookies are paragons of one-act dramatic construction: compact, self-contained, with a pleasing shape and a satisfying crunch. They end with a twist, offering tiny language lessons and kitschy proverbs. Fortune cookies never overstay their welcome or overreach their grasp.
The first installment of ESTs 2011 one-act marathon got me thinking about these complex confections, and not just because Qui Nguyens Bike Wreckone of the evenings five playletsincludes a scene where a fortune cookie is consumed with manic relish. Nope, it was because all the pieces featured platitudes masquerading as life lessonstoo much fortune and not enough cookie. The bills playwrights could have learned something from the humble desserts other virtues: brevity, modesty, surprise.
With his contrived Bike Wreck, Nguyen proposes a novel strategy to combat creeping gentrification: mugging. His two deliverymen heroesone slings Chinese food, the other totes documentslike to bitch about how much Alphabet City has changed (the ships sailed on that one). Tired of being patronized by the overprivileged jerks they serveone cellphone-happy meathead in particularthe duo take up street crime with predictably violent results. In an extremely BS-y coincidence, the yappy yuppy happens to be their first victim.
Ah, college! Remember those carefree evenings performing interpretive dances in abandoned buildings with your imaginary friend? In Billy Aronsons cloying In the Middle of the Night, an earnest young man with mental problems cavorts with his sexy female delusion before his worried parents cart him home. Its hard to know whether were expected to sympathize with his dilemmarejoining reality versus continuing with the cutesy-wootsy roleplayingor hope someone writes an effective prescription.
If youre marrying a hillbilly, make sure he doesnt hoodwink you on the homesteading plans. Thus the moral of Romulus Linneys chicken-fried chestnut Tennessee, in which a family evening on the farm is interrupted by the arrival of a confused widow with a cowbell. Decades before, shed abandoned that selfsame farm with her new husband, lighting out for her dreamed-of spiritual homethe titular state. Turns out her sneaky hubby drove around in circles before plunking her down only a few miles away. Finally, she wises up, tramps back, catches a nasty case of the monologues, and relives it all. Alas, the Mason-Dixon Masha never got her Moscow.
In Ben Rosenthals pretentious, hyper-verbose Ten Highhis characters sound like GRE vocabulary crammersa pair of philosophical hitmen share a barroom with a philandering philosopher and his aggrieved wife. While the dallying academic squirms, the hoodlums plot a version of Russian roulette involving a boutique toxin, a glass of liquor, and chance. Time for some goombah existentialism!
J. Holthams occasionally winsome though ultimately belabored School Night follows two teenage misfitsAmmon, the only black kid in school, and Lucy, a spunky little she-punkas they flirt and flinch their way haltingly into the sack. Holthams overwrought metaphors eventually overwhelm credulity: digging a pet kittys grave leads, incongruously, to a painfully literal digging for family roots. I want to belong, mutters Ammon as he excavates.
As the cookie might put it: Climb over clichés as you scale the peaks of dramatic composition.