Play Festival is year’s best

Alex Schaaf

Last weekend’s 24-Hour Play Festival was the last of the year, and it was unquestionably the best – there was not an empty seat to be found in Cloak Theatre. The audience was presented with six plays that were completely written, produced and performed over the course of 24 hours, from a planning meeting Friday night to Saturday night’s performance.
The festival started off with “You Are Cordially Invited to David Bowie’s Second Annual Cookie Swap,” written by Nora Taylor and Caitie Phalon and directed by Ellis Mosier. The unlikely character list included a delightfully androgynous David Bowie, played by “surprise guest artist” Chad Bay, a visually spot-on Cher played by Brianna Stapleton, the foul-mouthed poet Elizabeth Bishop played by Brune Macary, and a horny Art Garfunkel played by Avi Steiner. The plot was a bit unclear at times, but the emphasis placed upon the impersonations paid off, as the actors were quite convincing overall.
The next scene was “Sub-Zero Pete & the Snuggie from Outer Space,” written by Andi Rudd and Katie Cravens and directed by Peter Welch. The plot, acted out by Hesper Juhnke, Nate Peterson, Katy Harth and Chelsey Sand, took a humorous look at the imagination skills of children, as the character of Pete Naterson entertained both an imaginary friend and his own superhero persona of “Sub-Zero Pete.” The main payoff of the scene came with the mysterious creature played by Juhnke, who was suspected of being an alien but in actuality was a young woman trapped in a Snuggie. The most laughs came from Juhnke’s monologue, expounding on the infamous blanket, poking fun at the ridiculous advertisements so often seen on late-night television. Overall, the scene focused on clever one-liners and wordplay, and it got many well-deserved laughs.
The third play was unique and most likely left many in the audience confused, but ultimately it was a well-conceived idea executed fairly well. “Life & Leisure” was written by Kelly Milliner and directed by Eric Ohlrogge, and it featured Sam Flood, Jacob Ruben, Celeste Middleton and Amanda Martinez. From the start it was a little shaky, with some flubbed lines and awkward pauses leading to a little bit of unsteadiness. The climax of the play, however, came when Middleton seemed to feel faint and rushed from the stage, after which all the actors broke character, and seemed not to know what to do.
A wave of uneasiness spread over the room, as it appeared that the scene had ended disastrously with an actor running from the stage. Ohlrogge, the director, took to the stage and apologized for what had happened, trying to break the tension with a few terse jokes, before the lights went out and Middleton retook the stage with a smirk and a wink.
Planned all along, the stunt served well to underscore the theme of the scene – that sometimes sensationalism, rather than truth, is what the public wants and that the public would rather be entertained than told the true story. It was a risky maneuver to take at the mostly lighthearted play fest, but ultimately I think it paid off, even if most people didn’t understand the message.
The next play was “A Person, A Place, or A Thing” written by Elena Amesbury, directed by Byron Grant and acted by Mia Lerch, Louie Steptoe, Charlie King and Naomi Waxman. This was the most like “performance art” of them all, as the script was very absurdist, focusing on abstract ideas and nonsensical plotlines. This is not to say it was not enjoyable, however; the actors were very fun to watch and it was overall a success – it just ended up being the least memorable of the night.
The fifth play, “Shocking Business,” was written by Elaine Blum and directed by Ezra Schrage, and it featured Katie Hawkinson as a Midwestern talk-show host, eager to dole out homespun remedies and abstract metaphors that had nothing to do with the questions that were asked by the audience members, played by Alison Thompson, Andrew Knoedler and Lizzy Schroeder. This drew the biggest laughs up to that point, as Hawkinson nailed the part she was given, exhibiting a spot-on Minnesotan accent, and being very convincing in her na’ve sincerity. The plot may have not been the deepest, as it did not go much further than the initial joke, but for the format of the play fest it was a good fit.
The final play was the best of the night, as “The Pillowoman,” written by Alex Bunke and directed by Nikko Benson, offered up a brilliant spoof of the recently performed “Pillowman” play, starring both Bunke and Benson themselves. The script went through the major plot points of “Pillowman,” with humorous changes that modified and played around with the original script. The cast of Lacey Jo Benter, Claire Gannon, Zenobia Tucker and Aneesh Chauan did a stellar job of both imitating their “Pillowman” counterparts and creating memorable characters of their own in “Pillowoman.” Bunke’s plot mixed references to “Lost” and “The Little Mermaid” with a musical finale that ended the 24-Hour Play Festival on its highest note.