Cary Playwrights Forum‘s Fourth Annual PlaySlam! just so happened, this year, to fall on Star Wars Day (“May the fourth be with you,” after all). This provided a theme for the night and prompted these playwrights to base their plays on the future.

Now, I am used to play slams as produced in the western part of the Triangle, at the ArtsCenter. Things are done a little differently in the East, over Cary way. The Forum’s PlaySlam was a one-night event, and all the playwrights were from North Carolina. Further, Cary used a fifteen-member actor pool, and the director (in most cases, the playwright himself) only met his actors the afternoon of the performance, and, after only 45 minutes of rehearsal, cast members performed, with script-in-hand. These 180-second plays were just for fun, as you will soon see.

Thom Haynes, first among equals at the Forum, hosted the program as Darth Vader, complete with costume – well, almost. His helmet had no back to it, which kinda destroyed the illusion, ya know? Haynes is a punster, with one of the most deadpan deliveries I have ever seen; seriously, he has it down to a science. And the desired reaction – a groan, of course – was quick to come from this eager-to-please audience! The show consisted of ten playwrights writing two shows apiece, one for the first act and one for the second. After the first act, the audience gave their ballots to the ushers, and the top six playwrights went on to produce their second shows for Act II. The night’s winner (of a $100 purse) was selected from a second round of ballots, while the cast performed shows that did not make the bonus-round cut.

Other than our ballots, which gave us the names of the shows and a line of explanation for each, we had no other information on playwrights or their origins. This information came only after we had completed our ballots, so that there was no padding the vote for one particular playwright.

Act I began with “Planet of the Tape.” An underling (the names of the actors for each play is withheld to protect the innocent) enters to tell the Captain of an exploratory spaceship far in the future that the undersea state of Florida has yielded up the well-preserved carcass of a Blockbuster videotape. This is good news, because it has been 20 years since the evil ruler destroyed all videos and their players; this is now an historic find. Now they must find something on which to play it. The search continues….

Next came “The Sacred Ritual,” wherein three ‘tween-age boys attempted to summon The Devil. Or not. It all depended on whether the requisite snack came with the ritual….

In “Queue to Mars,” we saw a pair of travelers waiting in line to board a ship that makes a regular run to Mars, the Red Line. He complains to She that these lines are always too long; that it always takes forever to board; and that the accommodations…, ad nauseum. She tells He that the Red Line staff have always been very helpful, and you can always complain. He says it’s a waste of time. A demonstration ensues….

After the show, all nine playwrights assembled on stage for the presentation of the purse. Only then did we get the information of who wrote what:

  • Tony Bowman: “A Sky Too Big” and “First Contact and Fried Potatoes”
  • Stephen Bydal: “Queue to Mars” and “The Interviewer”
  • Rishi Chowdhari: “Planet of the Tape” and “Safari”
  • John Paul Middlesworth: “A Mouthful of Sand” and “Prior to Kirk”
  • Tom Reilly: “Charity Auction” and “Thought/Word”
  • Patrick Raynor: “Farm to Table” and “Timeshare”
  • Doug Simpson: “Previously on…” and “Next Time on…”
  • Stephanie Watson: “The Sacred Ritual” and “Our Lord and Savior Gonzorpian”
  • Eric Weil: “About Average” and “Getting There”

The final tally awarded John Paul Middlesworth the purse! John Paul, who hails from Chapel Hill, won with “Prior to Kirk,” wherein a pair of Star Trek conventioners sit awaiting an address by Captain Kirk. One, however, cannot keep her mouth shut, much to the dismay of the other. Her reaction is a Perfect Squelch (à la the longstanding short in Readers Digest for the past 50 years).

It is incumbent upon me to interject a line or two of critique here. The three-minute play is a difficult thing to accomplish, and all of these authors must be congratulated on producing two of them on relatively short notice, with a lack of polish time, rehearsal-wise. Still, the three-minute play can often be cathartic; I have witnessed it in the western side of the Triangle at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, where the very short play genre is held in higher esteem.

I must say that the caliber of the show, when comparing East to West, falls several degrees lower on the Richter scale in Cary than it does in Carrboro. One suggestion I might offer is that the time allotted for preparation might be extended somewhat. Like, say, doubling the amount of rehearsal time. Ninety minutes of rehearsal time might develop a good deal more nuance and shading. Just a thought.

Next to come in the Triangle is the Annual 10 by 10, a joint venture by the Cary Playwrights Forum and Odyssey Stage of Carrboro, running a weekend each at the ArtsCenter and the Cary Theater. The shows run July 11-20. Contact your favorite locale for tickets.