BWW Reviews: LOVE & BOTANY: SIX 10-MINUTE PLAYS at Source Festival

Summer is a time of bare feet, picnics and great opportunities to explore new theatre works. This summer's earliest opportunity to celebrate and discover new plays is CulturalDC's Source Festival, which opened June 5 and runs through June 28 with varied offerings of full-length plays, 10-minute plays and artistic blind dates.

Based on Love & Botany, a collection of six 10-minute plays, the Source Festival gives audiences a refreshing range of voices riffing on the intersection of relationships and plant life with plays taking us from a backyard garden to across the universe. Conceived as an opportunity to highlight playwrights' new work, the festival also showcases new faces on the stage, with an array of meaty parts for actors.

The Tomato and the Onion is an amusing start to the program and uses the 10-minute format well. Written by Simon Henriques and directed by Joan Cummins, the play toys with a gifted tomato as a metaphor for the heart. But what if a multi-layered onion just doesn't get the poetry upon which the gesture is built? Kendall Helblig as Marie and Matt Sparacino as George are appealing and wonderfully awkward as they navigate the potential relationship. Spare in its words and effervescent in tone, The Tomato and the Onion draws the audience in.

The second short play of the evening, Manus Dei by Jeffrey Strausser, is a denser and darker work. Two lovers meet twice annually following the Monarch's migration to each partner's home. But when milkweed, the butterflies' only source of sustenance, no longer grows at Walt's house is the arrangement off? Alison Daniels as Margaret Adams was particularly strong. Shawn Jain reveals surprises as Walt Becker. Chantal Martineau as Evelyn Price, the botany expert who pays house calls, perhaps had a case of opening night jitters, lines should be more ready and fluid. Brandon Butts directs the work.

Kristen Davis-Coelho's Dioecious features the largest cast of the evening. The biological term dioecious, in case you're not familiar, speaks of the reproduction of sexually distinct plant organisms. Here in the play it is the failure to reproduce that brings loss and grief to a couple. Set in another world, three creative beings look on at the couple's sorrow and debate their own ability to intervene. The couple (Erick Sotomayor and Caroline Lucas) has no lines, but their great physicality and presence leaves the audience no question about their thoughts and feelings. But it is the words that bog down the play. Heavy in lingo and concept, the audience cannot move past the same clinical observer status of One (Liz Dutton), Two (Lee Gerstenhaber) and Three (Tekle Ghebremeschel) who are caught in the bureaucrats' dilemma of heart vs. head as they deliberate breaking the rules. The three actors bring as much as they can to the piece, but the words themselves are just not compelling. Melanie Hsu composed the evocative cello score. Director Lila Rachel Becker brought forth a strong ensemble work.

In Allergy playwright Erica Smith and director Brendon Butts explore what happens if you are allergic to everything. As a small band explores a new frontier, Len (Shawn Jain) proves allergic to nearly everything and it appears he might not survive. But his connection to fellow traveler Eishe (Chantal Martineau) and some plants he has propagated might turn things around. Although there was a lovely connection between Len and Eishe, the play was too reminiscent of the circa 1976 made-for-TV-movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Tree Danglings gives us a lot to think about it its mere 10 minutes. Are we clinging or are we reaching? Do we have what it takes to discover and preserve what is unique? The scenario itself in Kristy Simmons' script doesn't initially seem to set up such interesting questions, but it works and is memorable. Aspiring playwright Me/Wife (Kendall Helblig) begins improvising a possible tale with You (Matt Sparacino) helping to enact the role of a lumberjack who encounters an unusual tree. The charm and appeal of Helblig and Sparacino are a great part of the work's success in this piece directed by Joan Cummins.

The evening closes with a play that is fun and quirky yet polished and focused. In Madeline Dennis-Yates' A Bouquet A Day, deliveryman Dan (Tekle Ghebremeschel) unwittingly gets looped into the long-running artistic experiment of Laura (Lee Gerstenhaber). Laura, the daughter of performance artists, was the subject of a work where she would receive flowers every day from artistic admirers. After years of some fame, Laura is now slipping from prominence but is convinced that without flowers she will die ... but the flowers are now fewer and less reliable. She convinces Dan that without flowers she could die (except she's on new meds so she's not really sure). Dan once thought that no one could die just because they don't get enough attention, but now he's not sure. The earnest Dan who just wants to help and the antics of fragile Laura are fascinating to watch unfold under Lila Rachel Becker's direction.

The six plays share one spare set of layered platforms. Lights and sound are basic but are specific to each work and augment the pieces. Costumes and props help fix us in time and place. Over the course of the month the Source Festival will draw on the talent of 150 artists in roles on stage and off.

The collection of plays grouped as Love and Botany was inspired by one of the Source Festival's three full length plays, (a love story) by Kelly Lusk. Each of the series of 10-minute plays corresponds with one of the featured full length plays. The Source Festival also offers "artistic blind dates" inspired by these same works. The "blind dates" brought together artists from different creative disciplines who collaborated over several months to create the original works featured at the festival.

New works can be explored through the entire month of June at the Source Festival. If audience members haven't had their fill of this rare summertime treat of intriguing new theatre works, there is the Capital Fringe Festival (in DC) and the Contemporary American Theater Festival (in Shepherdstown, WV) filling the month of July.

Runtime: 80 minutes with one 10-minute intermission

Love & Botany is part of the Source Festival produced by CulturalDC at Source, 1835 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20001. Love & Botany will be performed Sunday, June 14 at 1 pm and 8 pm; Friday, June 19 at 8 pm; and Saturday, June 27 at 4 pm. The Source Festival is comprised of 10-minute plays, full length plays and artistic blind dates running Wednesdays - Sundays through June 28; see the Festival's website for a full performance schedule or to purchase tickets.

Photos by Daniel Corey. Top: Kendall Helblig in The Tomato and the Onion. Center: Caroline Lucas and Erick Sotomayor in Dioecious. Bottom: Lee Gerstenhaber and Tekle Ghebremeschel in A Boquet A Day.

Zoey's Playlist on NBC

Related Articles View More Washington, DC Stories   Shows

From This Author Pamela Roberts