At this summer’s 13th annual 10×10 Festival of New Short Plays at the Carrboro Arts Center, I was struck by two things: how good acting and directing can rescue a mediocre script; and how lots of contemporary plays try to be postmodern by being self-referential. Oh look, there’s a playwright onstage trying to crank out a 10-minute piece for a deadline, with someone helping or hindering him; an actor cheerfully asserts we’re watching a play, or wait, no, that we’re not; an audience “plant” leaps to his feet to expostulate. One tries to bear it with patient good humor, because after all a glance at the bios tells you that the authors of these meta-works circle the strange attractors of New York and LA.
Theater is perforce collaborative, which is a joy and a risk. When hip urbanites stick their neck out by entrusting their script to whatever resources can be mustered in a state that is, they have read, 49th in spending for education, we rise to the occasion as we can. The Arts Center benefited from several sensitive performances and a light touch from most of the directors; yet the play selection tended toward obvious “on the nose” dialogue, where things get patiently explained to a presumably dim, provincial, or hard-of-hearing audience; in the end, said audience is glad they came but hungry again in three hours.
There were exceptions. I quite liked Amanda Petefish-Shrag’s “The Wisdom of Pirates,” for instance, in which a woman finds a quirky and beautiful way to bring her errant husband to heel. Whoa, look here, the author teaches at Northwest Missouri State University. Cue Emily Dickinson:
The Robin's my Criterion for Tune — Because I grow — where Robins do — But, were I Cuckoo born — I'd swear by him — The ode familiar — rules the Noon — The Buttercup's, my Whim for Bloom — Because, we're Orchard sprung — But, were I Britain born, I'd Daisies spurn — None but the Nut — October fit — Because, through dropping it, The Seasons flit — I'm taught — Without the Snow's Tableau Winter, were lie — to me — Because I see — New Englandly — The Queen, discerns like me — Provincially —