theme: Robertson Carricat and Kirk McGee in Play by
By James Yeara
by Play: Then and Now
Directed by Laura Margolis
and Samuel Buggein
StageWorks, through May 11
StageWorks’ annual opening production of one-act plays, Play
by Play, is still the most adventurous, riskiest theater
in the region. In the past, when the new 10-minute plays revolved
around a theme—the Body Plays, the Black and White Plays,
the Purple Plays—the productions were an electric, eclectic
delight. Even the occasional duds held interest when juxtaposed
against the others in the collection. At its best, the Play
by Play format was theater for the buffet lover or for
the A.D.D. crowd. One-acts that were laser-focused on a theme
or a character or a relationship or an image created some
of the region’s most thoughtful yet entertaining theater.
I concluded last year’s review of StageWorks’ nameless collection
of one-act plays with a hope that “StageWorks can revive some
of the better plays of the past six years, sort of the Best
of the Best.” I’ve just learned to be careful what I hope
The 11 plays presented this year in Play by Play: Then
and Now suffer from the same lack of focus as last year’s
collection. Then and Now really isn’t a best-of collection
of previous one-acts: It’s simply nine one-acts from playwrights
who’ve had at least two plays produced at StageWorks during
the previous six seasons. And that’s not the stuff great theater
is made on.
The two new plays offer little: New Arts Policy is
a nice one-joke idea— federally endowed ballets must now have
professional-wrestling or NASCAR tie-ins—stretched through
some contortions to 10 minutes; Do You Dance is a sentimental
tale about lonely senior citizens connecting around “it’s
a small world after all” coincidences. If these were Then
and Now’s only faults, this could still be great theater.
Unfortunately, the returning plays aren’t greater than the
sum of their parts, and the lack of a unifying theme or exploration
or element renders a potentially great idea a lackluster event.
Simply put, the selected plays are not the strongest of the
previous six years.
Three do stand out: Monica Before and After from last
year, Silent Treatment from 2000’s Black and White
Plays, and Off Hand from 2001’s Body Plays are worth
revisiting. Each features strong characters—an artist model,
a mother saving her son from a life of mime, and a resigned
painter, respectively—and each connects with art’s power to
transform: Monica shows the artist’s overweight model’s
(Nan Mullenneaux) true beauty; Silent connects a nagging
mother (Eileen Schuyler) to her wanna-be mime son (Kirk McGee);
and Hand features a man (McGee) who woos an older woman
(Mullenneaux) through his painting. Though different in tone,
plot and characterization, the three plays share a theme that
the other eight plays don’t. Though taken from three different
years, this unifying element creates some sparks between these
three one-acts—sparks sadly missing in the others.
The two directors do spark some interest by repeating last
year’s staging device: an excellent ending tableau of actors
re-creating a key image that sums up one of the 11 plays.
But to save the unifying element until the end is a poor substitute
for what should constitute the heart of the preproduction
When created like a good variety or vaudeville show—i.e.,
by crafting the acts around a theme and sequencing them around
the effect each creates—the Play by Play structure
yields stellar results. Here’s hoping that next year’s Play
by Play production begins with connection, rather than
tacking it on as an afterthought.