24-Hour Play Fest makes good use of caffeine

Kristi Ruff

How much caffeine do five writers, five directors, 20 actors and a tech crew have to consume to produce five fantastic plays in 24 short hours? Beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, five scriptwriters got together and began creating plays. In the wee hours of the morning, directors arrived to choose their scripts, and at 8 a.m. Saturday, the cast began rehearsal.
The results were, well, what can I say? The performances were confusing, hilarious, emotional, disturbing and complete nonsense … often simultaneously.
Sarah Robinson, Brian Acker and Hannah Sweet starred in “Mrs. Sprecher,” a play seemingly rich with feminist overtones. The light banter went nowhere at first – a lot of talk about feminism and confusing mentions of killer ponies with “too many sparkles.”
The play had a counterintuitive ending, however, as the plot twist ended with an overprotective mother’s virginal son murdering his friend when she makes him angry – What?! – Yeah … that’s how I felt.
The normal setting and outwardly submissive mother figure made the play seem rather passé, until the mice-and-men-esque twist. Upon discovery of the mother’s truly sadistic nature, the audience sat bewildered in a shocked, collective silence.
Kelly Milliner and Rachel Li conveyed quite the twisted relationship – with Lizzy Schroeder helping to mix things up – in “All’s Well That Ends Well: a Modern Retelling,” the second play of the night. The character Ellen’s obsession with Bert, a chauvinist drunk, seemed quite unrealistic, although Li conveyed her na’veté convincingly.
While the story was fairly engaging, the emotions were slightly shallow and didn’t feel quite genuine. Everything was just a little too forced. Perhaps the line referencing the fact that Bert got sent to Iraq because of the draft when we don’t have one in the U.S. skewed my view.
For an imaginary tale reminiscent of old campfire days, “Tale of the Kooshbird,” the third play, was fresh and original. The basic premise: An older brother (Michael Barton) tells a scary story to his younger sister (Sarah McSherry) and her imaginary friend (Gwen Kelly-Masterton). His story was re-enacted upstage from the actual storytellers, allowing the audience to fully realize the difference between story and reality in true comic-strip thought-bubble style.
The actors, especially Alison Thompson’s interpretation as the narrator, were spectacular – McSherry and Kelly-Masterton portrayed the young, innocent children with just the right facial expressions and voices. The names of characters, things like Nob, Woozle, etc., were particularly creative and added to the childish storybook setting.
As for the fourth play: If you’ve ever wondered how to combine lint rollers, muffins and stories about three-day-old fish carcasses – haven’t we all? – Elena Amesbury and Tamiko Terada deserve a major shout out for writing the script for the most original nonsense I have ever seen.
From Ela Johnson’s first, deeply profound question of “what muffins mean,” to Louie Steptoe’s water-balloon angst to Naomi Waxman’s final, worldview-altering observation that “there are holes in this house,” “Catfish Sandwiches” stole the show – especially with Aneesh Chauhan’s trench-coat wearing, gun-waving claim: “You have no idea how angry I am!” While I personally have no idea what it all meant, it was by far the most energetic and entertaining of all.
With the recent teen-vampire craze, it came as no surprise that the show ended with a play titled “Too Many Draculas.” A housewife, convinced that her husband is a “Dracula,” invites a detective over for dinner to investigate the situation. To avoid suspicion, she also invites her supposed college roommate – really a junkie she found on “Greg’s” List. Katie Hawkinson’s style and inflection created a perfect portrayal of the stereotypical housewife. Her performance alone maintained the crazy sitcom feel of the show.
Andrew Knoedler played quite the Dracula as well, managing to change both the detective (James Antony) and the loopy “roommate” (Katie Cravens) into vampires while his wife was “checking on the roast.” While the detective’s curiosity about female menstruation was slightly disturbing, the ending was quite fun, and provided just the comic relief one needed on a Saturday night.
Unsurprisingly, the answer to the caffeine question is: Apparently enough to need sponsoring by two major coffee companies. The obviously highly caffeinated performances were creative, spastic and truly well done.
Everyone who collaborated on this massive 24-hour undertaking deserves a standing ovation, not only for imagination and resourcefulness, but for outstanding ability to write, direct and perform top-rate plays that anyone outside of Lawrence would have needed weeks to put together.