There’s nothing quite like very short plays to whet or renew your appetite for live theater. Don’t like what you’re watching? Wait a few minutes, and you get a brand-new story.
That constant variety helps explain the popularity of the Northwest Festival of Ten-Minute Plays, which premiered its ninth annual incarnation last weekend with an evening of eight 10-minute new plays at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.
Dubbed Northwest Ten: Number Nine by its producers — playwrights Paul Calandrino and Connie Bennett, who also happens to be Eugene’s librarian, along with actor Eric Hadley and director Maggie Hadley — this year’s fest riffs on the “Number Nine” of its title by requiring each play to include a line from a Beatles’ song.
That slight conceit gives audience members a bit of extra entertainment as recognition dawns during each show — a bit like catching all the Alfred Hitchcock references in OCT’s recent “39 Steps” — but doesn’t otherwise shape the evening, which sprawls from an intensely abstract one-woman show involving a rope (Nancy Hopps’ End of the Rope) to Dale Light’s light cosmic fantasy Department of Regrets.
In that play, directed by Tim O’Donnell, a trio of agents from the future (Jessica Ruth Baker, Sarah Glidden and Bruce Lundy) arrives to prevent Joel (Thomas Weaver) from making a bad mistake in his life.
Some of the best work of the evening came in Paul Lewis’ Timmy Perlmutter Goes Flying, in which young Timmy (played with perfect boyish charm by Jane Brinkley) assembles a mail-order flying kit and, to considerable parental shock, flies higher and higher into the sky. The story has echoes of Bridget Carpenter’s 2006 Up!, about the man in the flying chair. Inga R. Wilson directed.
Barbara Corrado Pope’s The Last Chapter, which opens the evening, packs a lot of story into its 10-minute slot as two writers (Paul Calandrino and Mary Hoffman) work on dueling biographies, only to have their plans overtaken in a surprise ending delivered by the appearance of Kathy LaMontagne. Rebecca Nachison directed.
Rachel Carnes’ Complimentary WiFi is a perfect depiction of a couple (Michael Fitch and Lisa Hammond) caught in hotel and relationship hell. (Full disclosure: Carnes is a regular theater writer for Eugene Weekly, and Jane Brinkley, already noted above, is her daughter.)
The other plays on this year’s bill are Nancy West’s Dancing Out of Reach, Grant Thackray’s Unpocalypse and Calandrino’s The Paris Accord.
Sets and overall design of the shows are simple, as you might expect.
This is a fine evening’s entertainment. If I’ve got one pick, it’s that Northwest Ten, in its ninth incarnation, remains pretty Eugene-centric; just two playwrights come from out of town this time: Thackray, from Portland, and Lewis, from Seattle. I can sympathize with the difficulties of branching out, but it would be good to find new voices from farther afield.
Northwest Ten: Number Nine continues at Oregon Contemporary Theatre at 7:30 pm March 23-25 and at 2 pm March 26. A talkback follows the March 26 matinee. Tickets are $17, some discounts available, at OCTheatre.com.