Imagine, if you will, an ambient couple practicing golf swings (and not much more), a kid using a random tree as his church (and not in any manner involving the porcelain God) and a girl inadvertently interrupting him in order to dig something up beneath it, with no eventual revelation as to what it is, and a bad cop/only cop interrogation room scene the likes of which you could witness on nearly any law enforcement show from “Miami Vice” to “CSI Miami” and you’ve got Write-Act’s “Near Life Experience’s (not-quite-so) Original Play festival.”
Exhibiting, by and large, a decided dearth of dramatic twists, any manner of unpredictability, or surprise reverse endings, this rather flat, two-hour production with acting ranging from so-so to satisfactory, sadly felt a little more like three or four.
A line in “Burt and Herb” by Mari Falcone Cantos–a play that worked a little better than the others–“I like you more than the play” is pretty much how I would encompass this production whilst throwing as much of a nod to the performers as possible. Yet even their characterizations seemed, at times, to belie any enthusiasm they may have felt for the pieces in question.
“The Tracks Stop Here” by Linda Rand, the play that worked best for me, features a sweet yet tortured Kathie Barnes as Nan, a convivial, somewhat swashbuckling Joe Nassi as Tony and a sympathetic yet strained Terry Woodberry as Nan’s alcoholic/hopefully former alcoholic brother Paul. Nan awaits the arrival of Paul’s train while making small talk with Tony, which transforms into big talk, all the while hoping it will be discovered that Paul has cleaned up his act upon his arrival. All performances therein are just top notch, evincing a truly palpable sense of dread as to what might be looming right down the tracks, all the while exploring human commonality and encouragement.
“Burt and Herb,” as referenced above, a nice and ultimately somewhat touching slice-of-life play, explores the relationship of well…Burt and Herb, as portrayed earnestly and somewhat humorously by Jeffrey Morgan and Larry Lederman, respectively. Though there could have been many more discovered beats, and instances of organically derivative jokes within–prior to the dramatic reveal–the conversation was at least a bit interesting and relatable to many an Angeleno, particularly within the auspices of showbiz!
“The Maestro,” by Elayne Heilveil, entertained an interesting concept, but the ultimate plot shift, and inevitable transition left a bit to be desired in terms of clarity in urgency. Centering around a pompous, windbag of an acting instructor—Maestro, an aspiring pupil and former daughter of an erstwhile student—Gayle, and Maestro’s maid Perdita–the seemingly innocent Gayle will attempt to haplessly wow him with her acting skills, then finagle her way further unto his hearth by way of persuasively ousting poor ol’ Perdita. Another piece wherein the acting was solid as plexi glass encircling concrete: The cast acted well whilst acting like they didn’t, or accusing the other of not doing so, or serving both the accused and accuser of the accursed acting instructor! Phil Hunter as Maestro is always fun to watch, pertaining to his every pinched gesture and terse utterance. Jackie Nicole as Gayle was deliciously desperate and Sara Rose Shearer as Perdita was maternally and nurturingly steadfast.
Other plays included: “The Golf Lesson” by Geraldine Athas starring Kay Capasso and Franck Amiack, “Tree Counsel” by Stina Pederson starring Douglas Hampton, Erika Kavanagh and Jackie Nicole, “Coq Au Vin…With a Twist” by Judith Allen starring Vince Palmieri and Jinny Wilcott, “Get Me a Profiler” by Judith Allen and Elizabeth Curran starring Kay Capasso and “A Hill Too High” by Susan C. Hunter starring Jamie Sowers and Detective Drake.
On the whole, I didn’t perceive a lot of big transitional moments as to exactly why the plot and power play between characters shifted. The interactions seemed rather small and inconsequential, exhibiting very few big reveals or persuasive attributes; all too reminiscent of the overused plot device in 80s romantic comedies: Boy meets girl, boy pisses girl off, boy and girl argue, boy merely touches girl on arm and she forgives all assholery.
All in all, and having attended a good fair share of short play festivals in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed most of these scenarios explored in varying and sundry forms within many other dramatic works, and have seen them done far more compellingly. Therefore, a few more raised stakes, bold plot twists and textural details might have been utilized to inspire just a few more raised eyebrows…
For more information on Write Act and their current production of “Near Life Experiences,” please visit: