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BWW Reviews: Humanity Exposed in Theatre Artists Studio's NEW SUMMER SHORTS

Imagine a world without music or dance. Walk in the shoes of war veterans who cope in singular ways with their demons. Feel for the husband who can't get a word in edge-wise between two prototypical controllers, his wife and a doctor. Contemplate government-regulated dinners. Feel for the wife who fears for her life and takes necessary measures. Occupy the assassin's psyche before the lethal act.

It's this thread of foibles, follies, fears, and fancies that weaves through the eight ten-minute plays currently featured in Theatre Artists Studio's 7th Annual New Summer Shorts Festival. The run ends on June 22nd.

It's a sumptuous feast for a theatre-goer. Sure, some plates may appeal to the palate more than others, but, you're not going to leave hungry. There are entrees to satisfy everyone.

I've chosen to focus on three of the eight. But first, I must rave about the performances of Heidi Haggerty and Olivia Martin. Haggerty is a delightful and charming comic presence in Debra Rich Gettleman's No Substitutions. Martin is riveting as the aptly named Odette in Alan Austin's The Last Swan, left in a post-apocalyptic world with a music box and a relentless determination to save the dance. Two young actresses to keep an eye on!

The fest opens with a bang! Well, the forecast of the big bang of 1865 ~ the assassination of President Lincoln. In One Night Only, written by Michael Fleck and directed by Barbara Acker, it's November 1864, and the Booth brothers are performing Julius Caesar at the Winter Garden. Markus Maes delivers a magnetic performance as the peevish and incensed John Wilkes Booth, raging at the tyranny of Abraham Lincoln and decrying the unwillingness of his brother Edwin, the Prince of Players, convincingly portrayed by Steve Fajardo, to use his celebrity and stature to "teach, convert, convince the loyal people of this country to pull down this ugly tyrant from his throne...this new Caesar...who breaks our hearts on the altar of his precious Union." Powerful words, powerhouse acting!

In Casting Pearls, directed by Richard Powers Hardt, Michael Fleck again reveals his writing chops. No one is waiting for Godot in this encounter of two homeless men who are not-so-silent witnesses of our times. Stuart Grant's Frog is an "honest dumpster diver." He is unsettled by Poet whose every response is framed in the verse of the great poets. Kent Welborn is impressive and versatile in his recitations of lines from Kipling to Ferlinghetti. When he speaks the opening line of Carl Sandburg's provocative I Am the People, I Am the Mob, he hints to a perspective that may be at the heart of this play. Poet and Frog are, in Sandburg's words, two of "the audience that witnesses history" over whom terrible storms have passed, in this case casualties of war with messages to deliver, who do not forget and who must not be forgotten.

In Changing Times, it is a gallant gesture of fidelity that makes the play, and Cynthia Elek, as the good wife Louise, delivers it with charm and panache.

Kudos to Theatre Artists Studio, which distinguishes itself as a collaborative learning place for professionals and aspiring theatre artists to work at their craft, for delivering such a fine fe(a)st.

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From This Author Herbert Paine