For the fourth year running, The ArtsCenter has presented the only event of its kind anywhere, as a total of 13 playwrights competed in this year’s PlaySlam, an evening of three-minute plays “where the audience calls the shots.” As we have come to know pretty well, these plays are voted on by the viewers; the playwrights of the top five vote-getters each present another three-minute play, and the cumulative winner takes home a hundred bucks cash. Not bad for a three-page script, huh?

This year was a touch different; the actors, an assembled multitude of 19 including the writers themselves (some of them acted, as well), only got the scripts they would perform Saturday night that morning. Thus, these plays were presented with script in hand. The ArtsCenter was abuzz with activity all day, as these shows were rehearsed a bit in the a.m. and an afternoon reading of four (much longer) new works was presented for the public, along with an evening reception and a quick break for dinner. The playwrights were a mixture of those new—not only to the area but to the three-minute play genre, even—and those who had participated in one or more of the three previous years. As ever, the evening was emceed by The ArtsCenter’s Lynden Harris and proudly presented by the North Carolina Playwrights Alliance. Each audience member got a ballot along with a program, and the evening began at full speed promptly at eight o’clock.

The scripts were as varied as you might think; some playwrights opted for scenes from larger works, others worked to form characters and plots in the 180 seconds allotted. The three-minute plays fared better than the excerpts; all five of the winners after the first round were complete works. Mark Cornell, a PlaySlam veteran, claimed a slot in Round Two with his exceptionally funny—or scary, depending on your point of view—“The Rental Company.” This play showed us a Mafia don who ran a car rental company like you run the mob; the smart money voted as much for Julian “J” Chachula, Jr.’s perfect portrayal as it did for the play. In chronological order, the four other Round One winners were: John Boni’s “The Condom Machine,” John Paul Middlesworth’s “Tara Incognita,” Adrienne Pender’s “The Spectrum of Love,” and Annie Taft’s “He Said…She Said…The Game!”

Now, we knew which plays advanced their authors; we just didn’t know which authors they were! We voted strictly on what we saw. This year, the winners of Round One all won on humor; as one playwright said, it’s the fastest way to make a connection.

“The Condom Machine” portrayed artificial intelligence that could predict your success by the “lady” you named as your partner, and it was sure to ask! “Tara Incognita” went completely on theater; a director and two actors are rehearsing a plantation epic. Trouble is, the Man doesn’t know whether he’s in Georgia, or Germany! “The Spectrum of Love” was a series of anniversaries: first, 10th, 25th, and 50th. Each time, the exact same conversation took place; but everything depended on how each was said. And in “He Said…She Said…The Game,” it’s all in the eyes of the beholder; in a battle of the sexes, how’s the guy gonna win if the emcee thinks the gal is hot? This one probably won on its premise alone.

Round Two began with an introduction of all 13 playwrights; but even at this point, we didn’t know who wrote what. We learned which five plays won Round One and the titles of the five plays we would see next. “The Girl in the Yellow Gown” combined frat boys and ghosts; “Still, Together” froze a pair of young lovers in time; “What She Said” was a lesson in miscommunication; and “thejoyofdatingdotcom” proved there’s no joy in dating after 35! But the absolute winner of the evening—and this one might have won on its own merits alone—was “The Ethics Hotline.” The characters are one wavering senator, trying to vote his conscience, and the lady manning the phone, who does her absolute best to talk him out of it! This hotline was never for ethics! The man who took home the glory and the gold was newcomer John Boni. Not only is Boni new to the area—he’s only been in the Triangle less than a year—but he had never before tried his hand at this particular craft!

The ArtsCenter promises another edition of PlaySlam next September, after another round of many plays passes through another handpicked court of judges. But in the meantime, the Center’s Playwrights Roundtable presents a reading of one of this group’s full-length plays, as Mark Cornell premieres his latest work at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12. And catch the very first PlaySlam ever to journey beyond Carrboro, as The ArtsCenter takes its original concept to Asheville’s Stoneleaf Theatre Festival in spring 2007.

The ArtsCenter: North Carolina Playwrights Alliance: [inactive 11/09].