Some have suggested the most challenging form of literature is the short story, as it requires the author to create characters, a situation and its resolution, and to make this compelling in less time than a typical chapter of most books. The complications increase for those attempting short drama, as the constraints of time likely limit the number of characters, scenes, and what can be reasonably presented in the time allowed.

As part of Theatre Kalamazoo's New Play Festival, sex 10-minute plays were presented at the Epic Theatre in the Kalamazoo Mall on Jan. 31. Many of them were premieres. 

Staging for all these dramas was minimal, with a black curtain backdrop, the occasional table and chairs, and at times a spotlight for the speaking actor. All were presented as run-throughs, with the performers holding scripts and consulting them when needed. With the exception of the opening piece, there were no effects or incidental music, just the script and its negotiation by a small group of actors. 

PACK RAT by Floyd Dirette, produced by All Ears Theatre

This was staged as a radio drama, with the cast reading into microphones and a Foley artist closing doors and playing music cues on a CD. Pack Rat is a teenage girl who keeps and sees everything, and who is the daughter of an avid fisherman. Noticing this apparent angler rarely brings home any fish, she packs father's pajamas in his tackle box, where he doesn't find them and which raises mother's suspicions. Smartly delivered with resonant voices.

WHEN SOCIALLY AWKWARD PEOPLE MARRY by Bethany Gibson, produced by Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College

A couple sits nervously at a table, attending a wedding where they only know one person in the room. They chatter about Netflix and how they never go out, ducking under a table to avoid interacting with the drunk wedding party. A few more introverted comments and we realize that 'socially awkward'  refers to this couple and not those getting married. Not much to it but charmingly acted.

BEACHED by Belinda McCauley, produced by Fancy Pants Theater

On a blanket-covered table posing as a beach, a woman on the eve of her wedding concludes a tryst with the best man. He keeps saying he's the best for her, but she won't hear it. She says it won't work, kisses him a final time and runs off to find her engagement ring, lost apparently in the sand. The man smiles and retrieves the ring from his swim trunks. Well acted with bitter verbiage.

WILL AND DONALD by Phil Forsyth, produced by Black Arts & Cultural Center

As a single man prepares dinner, he gets a call from an old rival who had stolen his girl and married her. Old habits die hard as the two needle each other, and the language keeps escalating. Donald explains his presence by saying the woman has died, and reads her diary entry saying she wanted Will more. Angry he was never told this, Will sends Donald packing with one last insult. Good interplay and pungent witticisms.

KEYS by Samantha McVeigh, produced by Center Stage

A housewife falls apart as her pianist daughter has died of pneumonia. She fears she'll forget Melanie, chews out her husband for wanting to sell the piano, and screams he isn't grieving enough. His befuddlement and chilled comments let us know this has been building a while. Kelly Moran Downey, playing the wife, is tense, off-kilter, and very believable.

THE PROBLEM IS by Kaili Doud, produced by South County Players

Lena tries to write Profound Thoughts, each starting with “The problem is.” She gets a visit from Dad and a phone call from Mom, each offering food and each concerned something is wrong. She gets the impression the parents are talking past her and not to her, and says so in her “problem is” writings. She then texts her friend Sam, and her behavior matches her parents'. A little wordy, but Lena and Mom are terrific.

An interesting afternoon to be sure, as plays in this format are not often played or produced. There's a chance to talk to the actors and flyers in the lobby for upcoming productions by the various companies. Based on what I saw, some of their full-form productions may well worth be seeing.

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