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Review: AN EVENING OF ONE ACTS Joyously Welcomes Audiences Back to Ridgefield Theater Barn

Five Short Plays About Connecting, on Stage in Connecticut through July 10

Review: AN EVENING OF ONE ACTS Joyously Welcomes Audiences Back to Ridgefield Theater Barn
Cooper Smithers and Jennifer Hankla dish at a funeral they weren't invited to in "Wait for It," part of "An Evening of One Acts," at Ridgefield Theater Barn through July 10.

What would happen if a lonely woman out for a solitary stroll on the beach happened upon a kindred spirit ... who happened to have a whale of a tail?

What would happen if a woman walked into the wrong post-funeral reception and happened upon a man who crashes strangers' funerals for the free food?

What would happen if a lonely older woman, whose husband is in memory care, sought platonic companionship and happened upon an older man who sought something, uh, extra-platonic?

What would happen if a sullen patient in a podiatrist's office happened upon a medical assistant who's a cross between Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett?

What would happen if three women of various ages and personas happened upon the same man for one night stands that bear no resemblance to each other?

There's only one way to find the answers to those burning questions. Get over to Ridgefield Theater Barn (Ridgefield, Conn.) to see its current excellent entertainment, An Evening of One Acts, on stage weekends through July 10.

LIVE THEATER IS BACK
Yes, it's true. Local live theater is back, at last, after what feels like an eternity of bloodless virtuality canceling the immediacy of full-blooded reality.

This smartly-curated collection of five short, lively, skillfully-mounted plays -- running without intermission for a fast-moving 90 or so minutes -- is a fine and fun way to become reacquainted with the kind of pleasures only live-audience theater can offer. (Zoom theater ably serves its purpose as a stop-gap -- not a substitute -- for in-the-room theater.)

The unifying theme of an Evening of One Acts, writes Production Manager Paulette Layton in her "Barnbill" program notes, is "the desire we all have to make a human connection, as well as the fears, losses, and past traumas that can inhibit us from doing so. If the past year has taught us anything, it is the importance of human connection."

Another similarity linking this quintet of theater pieces is that their thought-provoking life lessons and messages are delivered with a gentle wit and sweetness that is a welcome departure from the bare-knuckles crassness that keeps creeping into popular culture.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you prefer a cable sitcom whose title features the f-word, presumably for the sheer shock value, by all means stay home. If your appetite runs more toward food for thought than junk food, ditch the couch and grab a theater seat.

Adding to the allure of Ridgefield Theater Barn is its convivial cabaret-style table seating. Patrons can arrive an hour before curtain, toting their own food and beverage to enjoy an indoor, pre-show picnic. Snacks and drinks also are for sale in the lobby.

This wholly enjoyable production's standouts are several female actors whose commanding stage presence and sharp characterizations fill the room with tears, smiles, and laughs.

In the monologue "Slow Dating," by Adam Szudrich (gracefully directed by Linda Seay), Stephanie Hepburn (as Ester) turns in a rhapsodic tour de force so passionate and emotionally close to the bone it prompted one audience member to reflexively exclaim, "Bravo!" when she finished Mr. Szudrich's beautifully written, heart-breaking yet liberating soliloquy about a 70-something woman looking for a dignified way to move on with her life as her lifetime mate is nearing the end of his.

SLAPSTICKY
In Pat Lennon's frolicsome "Foothold" (briskly directed by Brian DeToma), Bonnie Rose, as eccentric medical assistant Mary, elicits hearty laughter with her canny comedic timing and frantic facial flexing that evokes slapstick antics. In the end, she turns empathetic therapist to win over distraught patient Thomas (Bill Warncke), by dispensing some old-fashioned relationship advice along with a sole-soothing footbath, and lollipop.

Also by Adam Szudrich is "One Night Stan" (directed by Nancy Ponturo), featuring a syncopated triptych of single women of various ages and temperaments -- vibrantly brought to life by Carolyn Savoia, Kimberly Marcus, and Kelly Kirby -- performing a sequence of amusing anecdotes that describe their dissimilar experiences with a guy named Stan. Plaudits to Ms. Ponturo for her tightly orchestrated staging, as the three actors excel at not missing a beat, much like a musical girl group. (At one point, they even break out dancing.)

FUNERAL CRASHER
In "Wait for It," by Mary Ethel Schmidt (nimbly directed by Duane Lanham), Cooper Smithers is Greg, a self-admitted "one-hit wonder" playwright who spends his time traveling the country in a van to forage for free meals at any funeral luncheon he can disappear into ("childhood friends" and "we bowled together" are stock responses when asked how he knows the deceased).

As Greg is stuffing his face, along comes Greta (Jennifer Hankla), an eye surgeon who has ended up at the wrong post-funeral venue (even though Greta indicates to Greg that she is quite familiar with the restaurant she was supposed to be at). Greta bemoans that she always seems to end up with something other than what she really wanted (although Greta also says she always does "everything right.") Minor head scratchers like those notwithstanding, Mr. Smithers is engagingly credible as a sly and slithery character, while Ms. Hankla is a worthy foil for his sangfroid. Plus, the punchline that punctuates the piece is a beaut of a button.

CAROL ALWAYS HITS THE MARK
When it comes to polished, savvy craftsmanship in the specialized sub-genre of short plays, Carol Mark is a local role model. She comes through swimmingly once again in "At the Water's Edge" (deftly directed by David Fritsch), reeling in exotic ocean life as a fanciful metaphor for loneliness.

This fish tale opens with a splash as Eddie (wonderfully cast Aaron Kaplan), a friendly sort who effuses Bronxian charm and swagger, is approached at the shoreline by timid Margie (Kristin Aug), and summarily throws off his beach towel to reveal a "merman" tail.

Eddie becomes a muse for Margie, whose fear of people he likens to the turtles caught between the rocks that he helps set free. By the end, it appears Margie may be on the verge of emerging from her shell, thanks to her new, fine-finned friend.

Along the way, the estimable Ms. Mark employs her talent for supple, light-hearted banter in the service of elegant observations about the need for mutual understanding and facing our fears.

An Evening of One Acts is dedicated to beloved Ridgefield Theater Barn author, actor, and visual artist Amy Oestreicher, who passed away in April 2021.

Due to Covid safety protocols, tickets for An Evening of One Acts are sold by the table (four seats for $140; $120 seniors), which are six feet apart.

Info > ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org; 203.431.9860; info@ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org.



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