Local playwright Paul Calandrino illuminates life, ten minutes at a time
by Anna Grace
It was an article on suicide tourism that pushed him over the edge.
Paul Calandrino was your typical theatergoer until he happened upon a New York Times report on a peculiar growth industry — businesses that fly terminally ill people halfway around the world so they can die with dignity. Inspired, a play pushed its way out of Calandrino’s imagination and onto the stage, where it swept a couple of competitions. He was hooked.
If Calandrino’s work around town as a playwriting instructor and the wizard behind the Northwest Ten Festival of Ten-minute Plays is any indicator, he wants to get the rest of us hooked on playwriting, too.
But this weekend, it’s all about Paul.
Trial By Fire Theatreworks is showcasing An Evening With Paul Calandrino, an octet of Calandrino’s short plays with themes ranging from the philosophical musing of a man trapped in the mundane cubicle work world (Cubism) to the kidnapping of a fishmonger (Bring Me the Head of Dufresne Fish).
Calandrino describes ten-minutes plays as haiku — broad brushstrokes illuminating a moment in time. But haiku are under no obligation to have a plot, build tension or come to a resolution. So how does Calandrino conceive and craft these quick, quirky theatrical experiences? By obsessing on concepts that collide with real events in his life, sparking the idea for a play.
Take, for instance, Buzz Bohannon’s World Famous Weed Whacker String Museum and Hall of Fame as Seen on That’s Incredible! Some years ago, Caladrino’s daily walk to work took him along a path that was frequently and liberally littered with weed-whacker strings. This niggled at him. Where did the strings come from? Were they just going to keep piling up?
The strings struck Calandrino as weird, but they didn’t inspire a play until he stumbled upon Graceland Too, a low-budget tourist attraction where an odd little man with clattering dentures has stuffed his pink Mississippi house from floor to ceiling with Elvis memorabilia. At last, the weed-whacker strings had found a character worthy of their care, and a play was born.
The eight plays selected for the performance have been rehearsing separately. Directors include Alan Beck, Bailey Ellis-Wiard, Emily Hart, Richard Leebrick, Adam Leonard and TBF veteran Benjamin Newman. Calandrino says it “feels great” to see his plays in the hands of others. “Sometimes they open up a whole new interpretation of my work,” he says, smiling.
I finish our interview by asking why he would pursue playwriting, a field that yields neither money nor fame. Calandrino’s eyebrows draw together quizzically, and he responds with a silence punctuated by aborted answers.
It’s as though I’d asked why he decided to pursue breathing. I realized that I had the equation the wrong way around. Playwriting has been pursuing Calandrino, for a long time now. This weekend we get to enjoy the results.
An Evening With Paul Calandrino runs Thursday-Friday, Oct. 20-28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, Trial By Fire TheatreWorks at Reality Kitchen, 245 Van Buren; $10, info at 683-1429.