With everything that’s mass producing itself on the theatre scene these days it’s an exciting and refreshing change of pace to see brand new works being workshopped in full as a creative indulgent experience! The E.M.P. Collective has exactly that happening with their current theatrical engagement, Cans N Drafts Presents: Short Play Series. Featuring eight brand new works that just six weeks ago didn’t exist, this showcase of Baltimore-based playwrights is pushing the envelope in a new direction. No topic is off-bound and— other than a brilliantly collaborative effort among shared people-resources— no threads of connectivity are being woven, it’s a bit like a six-pack beer sampler of newly cultivated brews, only with a bonus two for your troubles! Overseen by E.M.P. Co-Founder Brad Leroy Cartwright, Cans N Drafts is a developmental series designed to focus on the literary arts, workshopping these new pieces of theatrical creation for further development.
Print Quality Diagnostic by Amelia Carroll
Ever wonder what hijinks ensue when a cat goes missing and interpersonal relationships get out of hand? Tempers flare, tensions wind, cats meow…what more could you ask for in this humorously off-beat piece written by Amelia Carroll and Directed by Christine Ferrera? Featuring performers Dan Hianrahan, Tim Paggi, and Ren Pepitone, the play explores the relationships of friends and/or lovers. Listen for Peanut Butter (the cat) and watch the spastic breakdown that occurs once things get a little shocking. (Props to show Lighting Designer Eric Bowers for such thrilling effects!)
White People Like You by Christianna Clark
Addressing the ever-popular and ever-relevant racial dynamic and disparity, this work by Christianna Clark is Directed by Nairobi Collins and features performances by Erin Boosts, Zach Bopst, Jamal Loving, Michael Stevenson, and Dana Woodson. Set in what could be any modern coffee house in any urban city, but theoretically what sounds like a Starbucks in Charm City, the play explores two separate conversations that occur between two different sets of people and the juxtaposition of that dynamic when their paths cross at the coffee counter. Ross and Rachel, a pregnant yuppie white couple discusses things relevant to their current situation: where the baby will be attending school, how long it took the couple to move in together, and the sustainability of the neighborhood and global community in which they reside The other pairing, an African American mother and her son from the lower class, discuss the son’s options. Clark’s work draws forth a heated tension when the racial dynamic comes into play as the character of Rachel encounters the African American mother at the counter and then later her son while in line for the restroom. A powerful yet simplistic exploration this topic is well underway in this work.
Because The Void by Tim Paggi
What exactly is happening in this piece written by Tim Paggi and Directed by Joshua Buursma is unclear, but it’s entertaining as hell as the work transcends the metaphysical and meta-theatrical levels of existence. Perhaps Paggi has intended the play to delve into the inner psychological workings of how the world is hurling faster and faster into the vast nothingness of existence— what with our insatiable addiction to technology and our inability to disconnect from social media. Carefully crafting warhorse stereotype caricatures, Paggi presents the audience with the anal-retentive, high-strung father type (performed by Dave Iden), the chip-on-the-shoulder and ego for miles aspiring rapper (performed by Brandi Elizabeth Brown) and the spunky enthusiastic blogger-wannabe-journalist (performed by Ren Pepitone.) These three misfit characters find themselves thrust together in a car-ride on a search for “The Void.”
Paggi’s work is a whirlwind of curious as “The Void” seems to be both everything and nothing. It is a destination as well as an illness, a feeling as well as a tangible thing. Amid all of this existentialist contemplation, the befuddled old man character, Herb (performed to perfection by Alex Scally) arrives and adds a peculiar level of reality to the journey. Scally’s performance, in addition to all of the finely honed nuances of the other three performers in this piece, is spot on with the descriptive nature of his character’s archetype. Bewildered, doddering and vocally set to an antiquated age, Scally brings the confusion of the play round full circle when Herb attempts to encounter “The Void” or maybe “Void” depending on which meta-vein of the show you’re following.
The Repressive Hypothesis by Ren Pepitone
Visually striking and aurally stunning, this waltz-infused piece written by Ren Pepitone and Directed by Noelle Tolbert features a series of dances that define the character and story structure of what’s happening while expressing the emotions into beautiful fluid movement. Each character of the five that are represented on the stage, has a unique movement and musical arrangement for their character though all share similar qualities in both dancing style and song selection. Pepitone draws from the notion of repressed sexuality in her work and this theme translates heavily into the unnamed male character that is forever in absentia— referred to only by how he relates to the others— a brother, the husband, the master.
Featuring performances by Jonathan Jacobs, Margaret Bromilow Peterson, Jess Rivera, Michael Stevenson, and Lori Travis, the eyes are drawn not only to the mesmerizing dances carried out by the actors but to the decadent period costumes that fall into place. Travis dons an exquisitely gorgeous wedding gown that glistens perfectly against Stevenson’s waistcoat and its shiny buttons. The saucy fanned skirts of Rivera’s dress makes her servant-class character stand out in comparison to the wealthy wife-character of Travis and the nervous sister-character of Peterson. Listening to the three women wax nostalgic— Travis in a polite but fond fashion, Peterson in a nervous and flustered fashion, and Rivera in a dismissive and almost defensive fashion— over the husband/brother/master character is the perfect foil to the way they share their dances with Stevenson and Jacobs respectively. A curious exploration of movement, dance, and poetry of words, Pepitone’s possesses a fluidity that invites the audience to embrace it.
38 Minutes Ago by Dave Iden
Everyone who was alive and older than the age of nine remembers exactly where they were on November 22, 1963 when the news broke about president Kennedy’s assassination. In a twisted stroke of genius, Dave Iden explores a collision course of reality in his work 38 Minutes Ago. Directed by Peter Toran, this alternate reality implosion is a dizzying carousel of experiences that flicker so quickly from the lips of the performers to the ears of the audience that it’s almost like a dream that you desperately grasp to remember upon waking before it blinks completely away from your mind. Featuring performances by Lori Travis and Jackie Cast as mile-a-minute news reporters, V Lee as an internal member of the president’s cabinet, Amelia Carroll as a time-n-mind bending physicist, Jonathan Jacobs as Bobby, and Tim Paggi as JFK himself, Toran’s work snares the audiences like a hard shot fired fast from an unseen gunman in the grassy knoll.
Paggi’s portrayal of Kennedy is rather impressive, especially considering that he doesn’t force the accent that so many have come to expect when seeing Jack portrayed. The deeply intimate fraternal dynamic between Bobby and Jack reads well between Jacobs and Paggi, as does the harrowing moment of confession regarding what happened to Rosemary coming from Paggi in a deeply reflective instance of the play. The language and progression of the play itself is excellently penned and again Eric Bowers lighting design should be praised for the striking fadeout that occurs with Iden’s final lines of dialogues, leaving just a glimmering image of Kennedy alone in his seat as the final scene witnessed by the audience. An apt title, a surprising explorative turn of events, and a provocative piece, Iden’s work is gripping and edgy.
Oxytocin by Zach Bopst
Plays that take place in the future become alarming when the futuristic conditions seem only a stone’s throw from the way things are in the here and now. Zach Bopst has constructed a world where smog has become commonplace, so much so that there are charted times of when it will clear over certain countries so that the moon and stars can be seen at night. Directed by Mani Yangilmau, this momentary indulgence of a planet squandered in filth and spent in the shrouds of smog is not so far-fetched as to be total science fiction. Bopst creates just two characters, played by Nick Fruit and Logan Lynch, and explores what really matters between the pair of them in the withering environmental crisis of earth.
Lynch and Fruit have a sharp working chemistry, clearly lovers that have deep-seeded feelings for one another. Bopst addresses the age-old dilemma among two people in love— at what point do you draw the line when it comes to suffering? You don’t want them to watch you suffer and ultimately die but you don’t want to go through it alone. Even without the futuristic encroaching smog, this is a powerful notion to explore. Bowers’ lighting comes into sharp focus here because of what the shifts in illumination mean in context of the play and is one of the brighter uses of his design work.
Nigger is a Monkey that Never Sleeps by Nairobi Collins
Taking a controversial approach to racism, Nairobi Collins offers up a two-handler wherein one white male (performed by Scott Burke) and one black male (performed by Nigel Ray Garcia) discuss their views on racism in regard to the fact that they are adopted brothers who have grown up in poverty. Directed by Alisa Brock, the play is laden with coarse language and errs on the side of racism penetrating the fabric of America, nigh the world, in an inextricable nature that can no more be undone than it can be ignored.
Collins puts Garcia’s character onto a ranting soapbox for the majority of the script. While there are a great many valid points in the character’s arguments in regards to race, because of the ranting nature in which they are penned and delivered, it is easy to dismiss them. For every blast of malcontent delivered by Garcia’s character, ironically named Nigel, Burke’s character counters with a sound and logical argument designed to simultaneously debunk it and further antagonize the opposing character. Collins does deliver several profound statements throughout the work including, “No one fantasizes about being black” and “History has laid seeds in us that will never stop germinating” with the latter being made in reference to prejudice and racism on the whole. Due to the unbalance in the argumentative nature of Garcia’s character, a great deal of the poignancy is lost in this script.
Nickelodeon Fever Dream by Jonathan Jacobs
What? What— What— what would you do? That was probably copyrighted. Instead Jonathan Jacobs took the familiarly iconic 90’s Nickelodeon game show and spun it on its arse in true fever dream fashion, resulting in a chaotic dose of pandemonium that played out exactly like a hallucinated nightmare. Directed by Caitlin Weaver, the hysteria of an overly enthusiastic game show host (performed to the creepiest heights of camptastic theatricality by Alex Scally) and his petrified contestant (performed with vigor by Nick Fruit) becomes a readily palatable nightmare for all watching. Eric Bowers’ lighting design is at its finest in this piece, blinking like a rainbow robot mid-seizure as the antics unfold in this garish game-show grotesquerie.
Jacobs’ addresses repressed memory and traumatic past in a mockingly humorous vein that feels exactly like a sharply articulated nightmare. The performances are over the top and almost slowed in that “too real” fashion that only happens in dreams. The most bizarre and yet simultaneously beautiful element of the piece is the hypnotic and yet disjointed synchronization of the dance that occurs across the six performers (Scally and Fruit are joined by Brandi Elizabeth Brown, Jackie Cast, Dave Iden, and Ren Pepitone.) A remarkably disturbing piece of theatre, this seems an appropriate ending to the 8-pack performance piece featured for the evening.
An exceptional bunch of works at varying stages of their workshop process, this is a rare opportunity to see new works as they are being formulated with some of Baltimore’s very talented performers and playwrights putting their creative elements and abilities to good use. Running for only three evenings, this is an opportunity that you won’t want to miss experiencing.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Cans N Drafts Presents: Short Play Series plays through May 1, 2016 at the E.M.P. Collective— 307 W. Baltimore Street in Bromo Seltzer Arts District of Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.