Though at first it may seem clownish, see the world more upside-downish! Turn it on it’s head and pirouette it! Anything can happen if you let it…and you’re letting it happen at the West Arundel Creative Arts Center when you go to see Atypical Perspectives: An Evening of One-Act Plays written by Jeff Dunne. While the sole connective thread of the six one-act plays appears to be only that they share the same author, Director Sharon Preator puts them on display for the masses and gives the audience a tasty sampler of Dunne’s brilliant writing.
The best thing about an evening of one-acts is that if there’s one that doesn’t quite hit the mark or isn’t someone’s cup of tea, in just a few moments it will be over and onto the next one. By that same token, brief plays that snag the attention and cry out for further exploration leave the audience wanting more. There is a precarious balance of both in Atypical Perspectives. There is virtually no tech to speak of and yet the evening’s largest fault is in its technical design aspects. Lighting and Sound Designer and Operator Danielle Crawford gets press-ganged into scenic shift work and is often missing from the cue-board during the lapses between plays, which results in a lot of dead, dark space. That said, working in the bare-bones rehearsal style space does not leave much for way of lighting and sound design, but what is present is functional and well-suited to each of the shows, particularly the light play (with ups and downs and dimmers) that Crawford puts into place for Two Point Oh, the second show of the evening.
Director Sharon Preator makes the mistake of over-dressing and over-complicating the set. The idea behind elaborate furnishings, like couches and half-furnished apartments, are nice, however these furnishings and set pieces become cumbersome and hamper the timing of scenic change between plays. The actors are serving as the stage crew, alongside Stage Manager Sydney Knolls and the production’s pacing is greatly lacking. Preator could better serve Dunne’s writing and the actors’ performance by opting for one simple set, free of clutter and excessive furniture and props. The audience is willing to suspend their disbelief for good writing and strong acting; Atypical Perspectives has both.
Despite the lack of thru-line or connective thread among the plays, each one stands strongly on its own two feet and keeps the audience engaged. While some of Dunne’s works are more successful than others and one is really qualified as a flash-fiction installment, the overall result of the evening is something engaging and fulfilling, particularly with the two strongest plays featured in the second half of the program. The evening’s plays feature 13 actors: Barbara Gasper, Bob Gudauskas, Don Patterson, Emily Bruun, Hayle Barry, Imuetinyan Ugiagbe, Joe Downs, John O’Brien, Lori Bruun, Sam David, Shawn Fournier, and Sonia Socha. Bringing various levels of acting experience to the table, the cast of a baker’s dozen engages the audience on various levels cross the evening.
Brighter Than Others
The welcoming appetizer to Atypical Perspectives, the first show of the evening, Brighter Than Others is a comic exploration of how the brightest stars aren’t always the shiniest. Dunne sets the basic principal (that those in charge aren’t always the smartest or most suited to be in charge) in an ancient world type setting, with all of the characters being Neanderthals, dwelling blissfully in their ignorance, despite their remedial communication skills and highly structured sense of organization and government. The dialogue is clever and the point is hilarious, but this particular play is extremely repetitive and after a while the point of “the dumb refusing to understand the smart” becomes exhausted to the point of overkill. This aside, the dialogue is witty and the point that is being made is a sharp one, despite its repetition. Barbara Gasper deserves high praises for her Amelia Bedelia style literalism and overall dumbest-of-the-dumb confusions, which add layers of hilarity to the performance. Hayle Barry, as the intellectually stimulated Harrump, has an exasperating level of patience, which balances out some of the lower brow humors as delivered by the other Neanderthals.
Two Point Oh
At first a bit unclear, the lone woman standing in her futuristic space suit at the back of the stage quickly makes her presence known as Alexa (Christine Hurst), that bit of technology that we all desperately need to add unfathomable convenience to our lives. Jeff Dunne’s work in Two Point Oh is striking and brilliant as it perfectly illustrates the way technology has taken over our modern lives, only Dunne elevates this to an exponentially scary level with this piece. The piece is short and concise, surprisingly to the point after following the repetitive Brighter Than Others. Christine Hurst brilliantly embodies the techno-sentient artificial intelligence of Alexa, using that slightly off-putting yet strangely comforting semi-monotone voice with very little inflection that somehow still implies a sense of superiority. Bob Gudauskas, who plays the writer living in the apartment, has impressive facial expressions that are well utilized in this play.
What is magic? A provocative question that Jeff Dunne tackles rigorously in The Trial. Distanced from time, though with strong dialogue hints that pre-colonialism is the groundwork for the setting, this play puts the age-old question of witch hunts, in the literal sense, right into the minds of the audience. Accused of witchcraft, an all but undefinable term by the three elders’ standards, Mary (Barbara Gasper) delivers a serious of fearless retorts and defenses when it comes to her own life at stake. Gasper’s performance is incendiary and drives the core of Dunne’s message about magic and the fear that it inspires. Of particular note among the elders is Joe Downs, playing the youngest but most vehemently charged against Mary in this play. Downs fury and anger rages from a deeply insecure place of fear, which further exemplifies and illustrates the point Dunne is making, in a harsh but swift manner that falls sure into the rapid expansion of the play’s plot until it erupts at its apex.
The New Death
If the only thing that you can be certain of in life is death and taxes (and nobody’s going to let taxes quit) why wouldn’t you be lined up to take Death’s job if he up and fled the position one day? The premise in this production is so hokey, it’s downright cheesy! But that said, Dunne crafts an adorably ridiculous piece of theatrical fluff with Emily Bruun, Lori Bruun, and Imuetinyan Ugiagbe. While Ugiagbe is the silent character, an angel-of-death onlooker type that is evaluating Cheese (played by the vivaciously effervescent Emily Bruun), her character speaks hilarious volumes with her glances and physical posture. Emily Bruun, who plays Cheese, is desperate for approval and is finding none of it in Lori Bruun’s Edna. Realistically sharp-tongued and hilarious in scene with her daughter, Lori Bruun makes the perfect individual who refuses to believe that the moment of death has happened, especially when Death is nowhere to be found and instead arrives an upstart and precocious wedge of spunky dairy curd. The pair are delightful, and— I’ll say it again— super cheesy!
The Devil Exclusive
The pièce de résistance, the play that leaves the audience begging to explore it further, the masterpiece of the evening, arrives as the penultimate piece in the production. The Devil Exclusive, which is far deeper than its darkly comedic elements suggest, delves into the trenches of existence, theologically battling a soul-grappling theory about religion, God, and the Devil that will send heads spinning. Regardless of your personal religious beliefs, there is powerful though occurring here and evocative statements being proclaimed in this too-brief exploration of higher powers and their roles in the world as it stands. Dunne creates a striking masterpiece in this play, presenting shocking statements for pondering that will leave your mind whirling after the show closes, and may possibly be the only thing you think about all the rest of the night. Dunne explains the necessity of the devil, explores the notion of free will as a tenant of existence because both God and The Devil do exist, and examines all sorts of logical conclusions that spring from these principals. Bob Gudauskas appears in this production as a skeptical journalist who grows increasingly unnerved as the play progresses, and by its stunning conclusion, even Gudauskas’ character finds himself stewing deeply in doubt. But the show is stolen by Sam David, whose Satan is a great callback to Elizabeth Hurley in 2000 reboot of Bedazzled. Sassy, just slightly smoky, and sinful, David’s Devil is truly a Prince of Darkness and assuredly ‘The Quick Win.”
A Night at the Human Garden
Pithy and pun-filled, there is a literalism in this micro-minute play that gives the audience the giggles. Even fluffier than The New Death and with one tenth the substance, this series of hilarious literalist jokes and puns is a cute, albeit quirky, way to end the evening. Featuring Hayle Barry, Shawn Fournier, Sam David, Sonia Socha, and Christine Hurst, the delightful drabble is adorable and caps the evening with an appropriate dose of laughter.
Despite the show’s overall technical issues and some imbalances early on in the first production, it’s a fine evening of one-acts and a great showcase of Jeff Dunne’s works. Atypical Perspectives is well worth enjoying for its fiery evocative piece The Devil Exclusive, and a close second when it comes to impressive pieces, The Trial.
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission
Atypical Perspectives: An Evening of One-Act Plays written by Jeff Dunne plays through August 12, 2018 at the West Arundel Creative Arts Center— 1788 Dorsey Road in Hanover, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.