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Review: AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS at Ridgefield Theater Barn

Review: AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS at Ridgefield Theater Barn

Seven-Course Bill of Fare Runs through April 1

Say, for argument's sake, you're at one of those cocktail parties where the servers amble about the crowd with offerings of small bites to whet your appetite. Eat enough of 'em and it's almost like a full meal. That's one way to think of one-act plays staged sequentially - they are the passed hor d'oeuvres of theater.

If there are seven small bites that come your way and five or more tickle your tummy, that's pretty good, right? Of course, different people of varying tastes will not react identically to what pleases their palate. And so it is with a full plate of assorted hor d'oeuvres like the annual Evening of One Acts mounted by Ridgefield Theater Barn (RTB) now through Saturday, April 1 (

It's no mean feat to deliver pithy observations on life in a 10-minute entertainment package and win over the audience in the process. The formidable effort it takes to be concise and substantive and engaging all at once is summed up by the classic mea culpa, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." (While worthy of Yogi Berra, that quote in fact is by French philosopher Blaise Pascal.)

The good news is that almost all the seven short pieces (averaging 10 minutes each) in RTB's 2023 bill of fare justify their place in the program well enough.

The degree of success for this sub-genre of live theater can be measured in direct proportion to the clarity of a discernible plot line. The theatrical shorts that come up short, as a playwright friend of mine reminded me, are more akin to what you'll see on a sketch comedy show like Saturday Night Live, which is a whole other sub-genere of theater (including theater that is televised). SNL's trademark sketches present an exaggerated situation that is punched up with jokey jousting and cheeky dialogue, which is not the same as a short play plotline with a beginning, middle, and end. They are two different animals, yet it's not uncommon for creators of short plays to mistake their job as sketch comedy auteur.

The RTB show gets off to a strong start in the story department, but then again, how wrong can you go when you go to The Source, aka The Bible. Can you imagine what century-old Abraham and son Isaac chatted about after the boy narrowly escaped being sacrificed by his own father on the altar of God? Writer John Bavoso did, and the result is his clever, thoughtful and well-performed "An Awkward Conversation in the Shadow of Mount Moriah," crisply directed by Gina Pulice.

David Tate and Josh Adelson as father and son, respectively, project a believable filial chemistry - for better or worse, as such relationships can go, especially when the devout elder is so resolute in proving his faith to Yahweh that he's prepared to sink a shiny, sharp object into his beloved progeny.

Also admirable about Bavoso's strong work here is the organic nature of the humor. There are no cheap laughs, only well-earned ones. When Abraham realizes his wife (Sarah) will be apoplectic if she finds out what he might have done to his son under orders from God, Isaac says, "You've been fearing the wrath of the wrong deity this whole time."

Another of my favorites in this RTB collection of one-acts is "No Good Deed" by Ed Friedman, smartly directed with pinpoint pacing by Deborah Carlson. This is another high-concept piece, where the story is clear-cut, as are the characters. That's because Friedman is an accomplished craftsman with a fertile mind, plus the authorial authority and discipline to flesh out an idea with rigorous structure and sure-footed rhythm.

As Brenda, Pamme Jones (who happens to be the dynamic Executive Director of RTB) is visited backstage after her one-woman community theater show by co-worker Benny (Mark Hankla), who is eager to offer an obligatory "great job!" and then skedaddle his way out of there to join his frat-bro buds at an NFL game viewing party.

But Benny - beautifully portrayed by Hankla in a poignant performance filled with pathos - is not getting away so fast. While he's acting out the prizefight pitting his id against his super ego, Brenda has this guy's number all day long, and won't relent in pursuit of what she wants until he has her number. It's always fun to watch Pamme Jones, whose artful command of the stage never fails to serve her and the audience well.

Speaking of sparkling performances, this Evening of One-Acts ends on a two-for-one bonus with a pair of veterans regaling us with their well-seasoned talents. In "Stealing a Kiss" by Laurie Allen, Larry Greeley is Harvey, who plants himself on a bus stop bench next to Sue, played by Stephanie Hepburn. He's a chatterbox who wastes no time romancing the stone-faced Stephanie, who wants less than nothing to do with this silver-haired, silver-tongued masher.

Tenderly directed by Linda Seay, the piece - part character study, part vaudeville sketch - is tenderly written, evincing ample empathy for both its principals. "Stealing a Kiss" walks a tightrope as Harvey persists and Stephanie resists, but it sticks the landing with a fully-satisfying denouement, enhanced in no small measure by a couple of radiant troupers at the top of their game.

I had too much fun, as did the rest of the audience, watching Angie Joachim (Ruth) and Pamme Jones (Hazel) ham it up hilariously as two actresses out of central casting in Joe Carlisle's "Rugby's Angels," directed stylishly, with a touch of farce, by David Fritsch.

Joachim proves herself an expressive and agile comic actor who can effectively and efficiently deliver a joke without so much as a word (think Fran Drescher). All Joachim need do is emphatically roll her shoulders, Cagney-style, in the swagger of a film noir toughie, to elicit rolls of laughs.

Carlisle's piece parodies the soul-crushing creative culture and business rituals of Hollywood, as well as the vapid characters and dialogue of a certain genre of prime-time TV cops-and-robbers show of the 1970s, as its title unsubtly winks at.

Aided by Mark Hankla, who shows up here as writer-actor-producer Jimmy, the threesome milk the gags for all their worth, which is perfectly okay with the audience, happy to go along for the ride.

In Bara Swain's swift and sassy "Incorrigible," directed by Craig David Rosen, adult daughter Sandy (Rachel Dalton) has her hands full polishing a baby spoon with toothpaste while also exhorting her jokester mother Marge (Janice Rudolph) to behave in between mom's swigs of beer and rapid-fire one-liners. The moral of the story? As Marge rightly reminds us, "Aging isn't for sissies."

Also on the seven-piece bill are "Group," by Chris Griffin, directed by Brian DeToma, with Rachel Ames, Lindsay Clouse, Taffy Miller, Thomas Stubbs, and Bill Warnacke as residents, from new to ancient, of a waiting room in need of air conditioning; and "Bassinet," by Kate Katcher, directed by Greg Liosi, with Cheryl Hughes (Robin) and Sheri Rak (Madeline) as a mother and daughter, respectively, one of whom carries a secret that doesn't last long while they are buying a used bassinet from Emily Volpintesta (Shauna).

Paulette Layton is Production Manager. Stage Manager is Tina Morrissette. Sound Designer/Assistant Stage Manager is Addis Engel. Lighting Designer is Mark Hankla. Light Board by Bob Ottulich. Sound Board by Marie Ottulich.

Ridgefield Theater Barn is unique among local theaters, thanks to its cabaret-style seating at four-tops and counter-style high-tops. Food and beverage can be brought in and consumed starting an hour before showtime, when doors open.

Photo by Rachel Ames

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