The atmosphere was casual and familiar on the opening night of The ArtsCenter’s Redbird, a festival of five original one-acts written by local playwrights. Patrons perusing the adjoining art gallery prior to the performance were encouraged to purchase a glass of wine or a local brew and welcomed to bring their beverages into the theater to enjoy during the show. A clear sense of camaraderie permeated the room as the audience applauded the introduction of each one-act and even some introductions of their favorite actors.

The brainchild of producers Dorrie Casey and Jeri Lynn Schulke, artistic director at The ArtsCenter, this one-act festival has been a labor of love many years in the making, Schulke explained in her welcome address. As Redbird seeks to showcase new and original works, the festival also boasts deep local roots in North Carolina. All three of Friday night’s performances (“Saints Have Mothers” by Jane Holding, “Linnaeus Forgets” by Marianne Gingher and Debby Seabrooke, and “Life Without Water” by Michael Smith) are adaptations by local playwrights of original literature by North Carolina authors.

Elements of storytelling were prevalent in each of Friday night’s performances. Plots were less active than expository and intimately focused on a single character or relationship. Those expecting more in the way of developing action or character relationships may have been disappointed. Jane Holding, playwright, co-director with Tamara Kissane, and star of the one-woman show “Saints Have Mothers” depicted a woman who boasts over her accomplishments planning her 17-year-old daughter’s memorial service. After a brief interlude, Greg Hohn led the audience through zany snapshots of the life of an avant garde botanist with lighthearted musical narration in “Linnaeus Forgets.” After a formal intermission, Jane Allen Wilson and Marcia Edmundson closed the evening out with a young woman’s recollections of her peculiar childhood with her mother as a constant companion. With elements of irreverent humor and genuine affection, each piece presented some sort of memory – developments described in the past tense. Each of the works provided a possible jumping off point for each story to evolve into a full-fledged play, but for now they are merely glimpses.

Holding was both witty and sympathetic as the scorned Jean Mulray, living in the shadow of her standout daughter, Caitlin, in “Saints Have Mothers.” The small cast of four in “Linnaeus Forgets,” worked well in the realm of whimsy. Though each character possessed some strange characteristic to distinguish them from normalcy, the rest of the characters treated those idiosyncrasies as normal. Frau Linnaeus, played by Lenore Field, proved perhaps the only voice of reason as the wife of the eccentric botanist. Carl Linnaeus, played by Tom Marriott, worked tirelessly with the assistance of his musical companion, Viktor Blomgren, against all adversity in the unique endeavor to prove that plants are sexual creatures. Blomgren, played by Greg Hohn, also director of “Linnaeus Forgets,” continuously broke the fourth wall to address the audience with musical narration. The original compositions of Sam Gingher transitioned the audience from one snapshot of Linnaeus’ life to the next as he struggles with the shadow of doubt, personified in the form of his nemesis Johann Seigesbeck. Seigesbeck, voiced by Jimmy Magoo, claims perhaps the strangest attribute of the company as the singular puppet in an otherwise human cast. With the strange ambition of Linnaeus, musical inclusions, and puppetry to boot, this unique one act was transfixing to say the least. The final performance of the evening, “Life Without Water,” recounted the life of Cedar (Jane Allen Wilson) and her mother Sarah (Marcia Edmundson) as they sought to create some sense of family from their unique, often trying, situation. Wilson and Edmundson reflected the chemistry of the company that seemed to pervade the entire evening. Their mother-daughter bond was friendly and casual, but possessed a depth that gave meaning to their tale.

This sense of company and collaboration was the theme of the night. Although each cast was comprised of only a few members, the overall production team for Redbird numbered over thirty, with each member wearing multiple hats. Though one-acts are often shorted many production elements of a full-length play, Redbird’s consummate technical designs, including versatile work with projections, thoughtful costumes, and effective sound design added depth to the texts especially meaningful to local North Carolinians. Not a full-scale production, but much more than bare bones, this unique festival lives somewhere happily in between.

To experience the important endeavor in recognizing new works, and for a snapshot of local history, catch The ArtsCenter’s Redbird again next weekend March 20-22. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.