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The ArtsCenter, in collaboration with Odyssey Stage and Cary Playwrights Forum, opened the second annual NC 10x10 last night on their main stage. There will be three more shows this weekend in Carrboro, then the whole gaggle picks up and moves to the Cary Theatre for four shows next weekend.
The NC 10x10 picked up where the10 by 10 in the Triangle left off when they concluded their 16-season run a few years back. Now in its second season, the NC 10x10 has brought us a lineup of 10 new 10-minute plays that range from tickling the funny bone to tickling the conscience. Some have been at this distinct medium for a while now, but some are brand new to the 600-second one act play. Nevertheless, these shows were expertly handled by their central pool of actors, and each was a crowd pleaser.
Billed as Plays of Fortune, each one of these plays deals with some aspect of fortune dealing (sometimes from the bottom of the deck) a singular moment to some unsuspecting human, who must then deal with it as (s)he sees fit. We began with one titled "The Wish," by T. J. Silverio. A jogger (Ryan McDaniel) is suddenly accosted by a voice, seemingly from nowhere but finally found in a discarded soda bottle. The voice is that of a genie (Julya Mirro), who grants him one wish. The only caveat is, this needs to be quick. After all, we only got 10 minutes here.
Steffi Rubin penned the next play, "Upright and Blameless," a reinterpretation of the story of Job, updated to the present time and populated by none other than the two prime antagonists, God (as a disembodied voice, naturally) and Satan (Lucia Foster). The two haggle over Job (Joel McLaughlin), who gets handed to Old Nick as a test. Satan and one of his trusty minions (Xenon Winslow-Trevathan, in the first of her four appearances tonight) try to get the guy to foreswear his maker, but, as we have all come to learn, the man is a stalwart; they cannot get him to do it. Director Fred Corlett gets the Job done.
Third in the lineup is "RTFM," by Jack Berry. We are privy to a conversation between ground controller Elias Torre and novice astronaut Major Tom (Robby Merritt), ensconced in his capsule. Berry plays heavily on song lyrics, both from "Space Oddity" by David Bowie and from "Rocketman" by Elton John. When it becomes clear that Tom is way out of his comfort zone, Torre tells him that, when all else fails, "RTFM."
Susan M. Steadman gives us a play on a more serious note, in "(Anti)Material(ism)." Delia (Xenon Winslow-Trevathan) and her sis Tess (Kelly McDaniel) are shopping in their umpteenth secondhand store for a wedding dress for Delia's non-traditional wedding. As Josh (Jack Knowles) looks in the back for select items, Delia and Tess discuss the wedding and, more to the point, the groom, who may not be as non-traditional as Delia has convinced herself he is. The entire affair (cough) comes to a head when Mom (Lucia Foster) shows up, but it seems that Delia and Jack may have found her the "perfect" dress. But when Delia figures out she's being conned, she flees. Which of the three goes after her? Only your presence here will answer that question.
The last of the first act is "La Fortuna del Destino," by Mary Turner. Set in the Old West, we meet a Cowboy (Jeffrey Nugent) and a pair of the local denizens of Grimy Gulch, the Preacher and the Gambler (both ably played in cross casting by Michelle Kaiser and Rita Howell, respectively). They discuss the lack of funding for the church still needing to be built, and they wish for a better place to play cards than this old fleabag of a bar. When La Fortunata (Michelle Corbitt) shows up to give them a golden opportunity to obtain the contents of her accompanying trunk, our Cowboy is smitten, but the Gambler and the Minister fight over what's in the box. This one is accompanied by a rather puzzling little riddle, which only the Cowboy understands.
Act II opens with "Dirty Laundry," by Andy Rassler. Scott (Vishal Barnela) plays a put-upon spouse to Amber (Michelle Kaiser), who comes in carrying a bag she found on the street that just happens to be stuffed full of filthy lucre. Scott is horrified, and tells Amber she must turn it in, NOW. But Amber reminds her hubby that he's been out of work for three months, and this cash will come in real handy. The argument is interrupted by their best bud, Alex (Tim Coyle), who just happens to be a policeman. What to do? Give Alex the bag, or keep it for themselves? The decision, once it finally gets made, ends up satisfying all three concerned.
Mike Brannon gives us our next show, "Bestway Suites," in which a pair of down-and-outers ensconces themselves just outside a hotel, intending to be as comfortable and warm as possible in the diminishing temperature. Jerry (David McEwen) tells his friend Sophie (Lucia Foster) that he has made a considerable effort and has fixed his ever-present problem. He has scraped together enough cash to get himself a bus ticket to Des Moines, where his sister can set him up with a job at the mill, and he can then turn his life around. Sophie is duly impressed, both with his ability to clean himself up and with his ability on his guitar, which Jerry always keeps nearby. But the two are rudely interrupted by a trio of skateboarders who have become expert at rolling bums for what little they have on them. Now, one of the three, Kendall (Jack Knowles), turns out to be the son of one of Jerry's old buddies, and he thus is less enthusiastic about stealing from this particular bum. His two pals, Xander (Xenon Winslow-Trevathan) and Beatz (Jordon Garrity), have no such compunction. This one is the most sobering of the night, giving us a dose of fortune as nasty reality.
That one is followed by Eric Weil's "Impossible Dream, cont.," in which Don Quixote (Kurt Benrud) and Sancho (Robby Merritt) have galloped into the 20thcentury. Don sends his second out to forage for food while he rests his weary bones and heavy heart on a park bench. Sancho manages to beg a coin from a passing man, but it turns out to be a subway token. The next passerby turns out to be a woman (Sandra Shelton), whose self-imposed mission is to help the downtrodden, and she gives Sancho a twenty, but since neither Sancho nor Don has ever seen 20thcentury money, they are dubious.
"Wannabe," by Shelley Segal, depicts the family unit on the night of the wife's 30thclass reunion, the landmark day she set aside for having accomplished all of her dreams. Now that it has arrived, her husband, Todd (David Klionsky), urges her to hurry or they'll be late. Leigh (Joanna Herath) refuses to go; it is all too much. She considers herself a failure, and she could not bear to show her face in front of all her classmates. Todd is joined in his efforts to calm and encourage Leigh by their teenaged son, Ray (Kirby Callan), but it is a real question whether they will succeed, since Ray's abilities at persuasion are limited, at best.
We end the night with a gathering of royalty, as Clinton Festa gives us "Henry VIII's Gender Reveal Party." This one is the biggest of all, cast-wise, sporting a huge (for a 10-minute play) cast of six, as Henry (Charlie Machalicky) and his second wife, Anne Bolyn (Xenon Winslow-Trevathan), host relatives at what Henry tells them is a gender reveal party. Since this is long before modern medicine was ever able to tell us the gender of an unborn child, all four of Henry's guests are agog with anticipation. We have Henry's sister, Mary (Kelly McDaniel), his brother, Howard (Ryan McDaniel), a distant relative of undetermined age, Tom (Michael Shannon), and Anne's sister, Margaret (Jenn Bianchi). All of these folks want to hear what they assume is the good news, until they realize just how Henry has learned what the sex of his soon-to-be offspring is. It seems that Henry has received a congratulatory note from, um, well, God. This one is done up right, with period costumes, a multitude of props, including a very real cake, and even sound effects. It was a big finish to what had been a very varied and entertaining evening.
In my experience, almost every 10 by 10 has been a mixed lot, with some being really terrific and some — sometimes — barely meeting the requirements. This is not one of those instances. All ten of these shows pack a punch, with some very surprising endings, as well as a notion to ponder. I would be hard-pressed to make a decision on which of these rises to the level of best of the night, but there are two aspects of the evening that bear particular mention. The first is the very herculean efforts of Xenon Winslow-Trevathan, who gave us four very excellent and widely differing roles, in one case back-to-back, and did a splendid job without even breaking a sweat. The other is a shout out to T. J. Silverio and his creation of our first work, "The Wish," for its compactness (it was one of only two that had only two characters), characterization (in this case the Genie, who was an absolute HOOT, as Julya Mirro earned herself the award for best actress of the night), and its cleverness, in that it was the only one which could get away with actually reminding us that it was a 10-minute play.
The ArtsCenter continues with the NC 10x10 with shows tonight at 8:00 PM, plus a 3:00 PM matinee on Sunday. Then the whole shebang moves to the Cary Theater. For those times and ticket prices, please see the sidebar.