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STELL-AHHH! (l-r) Innvar, Stauffer and Mazzie in You were great: (l-r) Vernon, Rauscher, Roper and Katzer in Play by Play: Crossroads.

Photo: Rob Shannon

Variety Show

By James Yeara

Play by Play: Crossroads

Festival of one-act plays by Jesse Waldinger, Brian Dykstra, Rebekah Lopata, Michael Whistler, William Bordon, Deborah Margolin and Rich Orloff; directed by Abby Lee and Laura Margolis

Stageworks/Hudson, through Oct. 11; GE Theater at Proctors, Oct. 14-18

You were great,” Chuck (Rich ard Vernon) says, popping his head out from under the covers on the bed centerstage, a big smile lingering cunningly on his face.

“You were great,” Angela (Angela Rauscher) coos immediately to Chuck, her smile framed by her luscious chestnut curls as the covers slide off.

“You were great, too,” Tena (Linda Roper) moans with impeccable timing, the covers eased back to reveal her satisfied smile as the audience gasps and laughs simultaneously.

“Hey, what about me?” the lump of covers on the right side of the bed seems to whine as Joe (Ryan R. Katzer), the seeming contortionist, squeezes his head into the light like a newborn from under the twisted sheets and coverings. The audience spasms in laughter.

Thus begins Swing Set by Rich Orloff, the last of the seven one-act plays that make up Stageworks/Hudson’s Play by Play: Crossroads. Stageworks/Hudson’s annual feast of original theater is always one of the highlights of the local theater scene, whether performed at the start of the summer season, as in years past, or at Proctors Theater in the fall as it was last year. With an annual theme to loosely tie the one-acts together, Play by Play: Crossroads offers plenty of variety to its appreciative audience, even as it stretches its quartet of actors. With typically smart direction from Stageworks founding artistic director Laura Margolis and newcomer Abby Lee, Play by Play: Crossroads moves swiftly through its seven scenes of characters on the cusp of life-altering climaxes.

It’s done smartly before a series of images projected on a rear screen, and the modern economy of stagecraft leaves plenty of time to focus on what makes theater theater: the acting, the dialogue, the action. The first play, Adagio Lamentoso by Jesse Waldinger, centers on Peter Tchaikovsky (Vernon) basking in the glow of the first performance of what turns out to be his last symphony, Pathetique, when suddenly he is confronted with what today might be called his “Michael Jackson moment.” It has become a staple of the Play by Play series to have a one-act feature an unusual take on a historical figure, and Adagio Lamentoso doesn’t disappoint.

Those looking for a sci-fi fix will find it in Wired—its last word, “iBrain,” sums it up. And in This Is What I Wanted, playwright Deborah Margolin manages to straddle everything from the headlines of Iraq through the ‘50s pin-ups of Betty Page, and features a stunning performance by Rauscher that will linger long in the memory. Tautly directed by Margolis, This Is What I Wanted also uses the rear-screen projection to best effect, and the lights, sound, images, and acting drive in a well-ordered drill to its stand-at-attention ending.

Each Play by Play has included a one-act that provokes not only laughter and appreciation of the craft displayed, but tugs at the heart, too. Gunning for Life by William Bordon, the Act 2 opener, centers on the wheelchair-bound Roscoe (Vernon), who is dying of cancer, and his long-suffering wife Abby (Roper). The play hinges on Ernest Hemingway’s infamous shotgun, but develops at a crossroads far from the expected. Gunning for Life is the touchstone of this year’s Play by Play, and the benchmark is high.

 


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