If it’s summer, it must be time for 10 by 10 In the Triangle! The ArtsCenter‘s annual collection of the ten best short plays is a big hit with Triangle theatergoers, and this year’s opening night was no exception. The opening night festivities were attended by the 10 by 10‘s founder, Lynden Harris, and her entourage. One of the collection’s contributors, local playwright Allan Maule, was also in attendance.

Over 1,100 ten-minute plays were submitted this year, from across the globe; it takes a full six months, and dozens of readers, to winnow down these selections into this annual Best in Show.

Interestingly, this year’s winners seem to hug the two coastlines, as contributors hail from places like L.A., Burbank, and Shoreline, WA, while contributors closer to home live in locales like Baltimore, Philly, and the Big Apple.

These ten plays employ ten Triangle directors, who draw from a pool of ten Triangle actors. While two of the shorts this year contain three and four actors, the overwhelming majority of shows were duos: three in Act I and all of Act II. The opening two plays (“Breaking News” by Ira Hauptman and “Ms. Gallager’s First Grade Class’s Presidential Election” by Ron Burch) were undoubtedly comedies; the others this year best more to the serious side.

Hauptman’s “Breaking News” gave us a close, before- and behind-the-scenes look at the local news, as read by Heather (“my name’s not Heather”) and Chuck, who are as out of their depth as any two stage personalities can be. Ron Burch made it pretty clear what’s happening in his show, “Ms. Gallager’s First Grade Class’s Presidential Election:” who will the first graders elect as their class president? These four actors did a pretty convincing job of making us believe they were all six years old! “Kid Stuff” by Chris Shaw Swanson showed us how a child’s toy, made from recycled material, creates a major stir, as worried parents Mark (Sean McCracken) and Cheryl (Johanna Rose Burwell) wonder why their son Luke has to make a gun for his third grade arts project! Susan Middaugh, in her work “Just a Bus Driver,” had us worrying what to do when your only passenger on the bus tonight comes brandishing a gun. Lazarus Simmons and Trevor Johnson convincingly played driver and passenger, respectively. And “Two Late,” by Allan Maule, took us to the airport, where a put-upon TSA agent (Shaun Schneider) must deal with a recalcitrant passenger (Page Purgar).

Act II started off with “The Seven Lovers of Bluehat Whistlestop” by Lauren Feldman. Our narrator (Claire Koenig) guided us through a spiritual voyage taken by Bluehat (Johanna Rose Burwell) as she sought her one true love. Cassie M. Seinuk then gave us “Cracklers,” as two disparate passengers (Kyma Lassiter and Sean McCracken) rode out the Fourth of July on Boston’s Underground. Michael Wells-Oakes then bestowed us with “Grace” as her parents, Bill (Trevor Johnson) and Shirley (Page Purgar), tried to sort out their varying takes on the present Rites of Spring. Then Lazarus Simmons and Kyma Lassiter showed us “The Way It Really, Truly, Almost Was” by Brendan Healy. Their life together is coming to a close, but his memories of all the times they shared are a touch different from hers. Finally, Dennnis Goza closed out the evening as the Shopkeeper (Fred Corlett) tried to explain “The Third Category” to his desperate customer, Michelle (Mary Rowland).

The ArtsCenter’s 10 by 10 in the Triangle was a complete sellout, and the audience – as they do every year – really got into it. To this crowd’s mind, there were plenty of cheers and absolutely no jeers in the line-up. “Just a Bus Driver” took first place hands-down in Act I, and Act II definitely saved the best for last with “The Third Category.” The audience loved them, every one. As for me, well, I must admit I was a little let down by this year’s selections. True, these shows are infinitely varied, occasionally sweet, and always well acted; they are superbly put together, both in script and in execution. But something that I have come to expect from a night at 10 by 10 was missing. Where was the Oomph? Where was the Pizzazz, the OMG? It was sadly lacking, I fear. Don’t get me wrong, now. These ten plays have many superlatives to offer. Unfortunately, WOW isn’t one of them. Oh, well – maybe next year.

10 by 10 in the Triangle continues through Sunday, July 24. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.