The Source Theatre Festival explores three themes through full length plays, 10 minute plays, and artist blind dates. Each theme has six 10 minute plays and they are performed in their group. It was fascinating the way that various playwrights approached the themes and are able to dig into them with only 10 minutes on stage. Each one was an entertaining evening of theatre that was lighthearted yet thought-provoking.
Dreams and Discord
Walking in to the Source space one cannot help but notice Laura Artesi crumpled on the ground. Artesi leads up the first play in this set as Elise in Hans & Elise with Jonathan Helwig playing the other titular character. Helwig as the charming and consistent boyfriend pursuing Artesi’s quirky and somewhat unstable Elise, this piece, by Alyssa Wilden, explores relationships when one partner is living with a mental illness. Artesi transitions well between her fluid movement sections and the bombastic acting she shares with Helwig though in general everything felt fairly surface. There was a microphone used for Helwig to speak in during moments of Artesi’s dreamlike states that could have been slightly less awkward with a voice over recording but it didn’t really seem to be too distracting. Overall, Gus Heagerty’s directing was fluid and natural.
Suddenly a ridiculous clown appears and Riding Lessons takes off. Mary Myers is a delightful sight as she scurries about in all of her silliness. The trouble is Matthew Sparacino’s character, Clark, is the only one who can see her. That is, until he meets the adorably bookish Edie, played by Kendall Helbig. Clark has some baggage and it shows itself in the form of a clown. Playwright Brett Hursey lightheartedly explores some heavy topics without being condescending or mocking and Lex Davis directed in a way that Myers’ clown did just enough clowning to be humorous without being too distracting or absurd. Her physical and comedic work drove the action of the story, even when she wasn’t directly involved.
Cut to Everlast where we are suddenly sharing a drink with two hipster climbers who recently returned from Everest. Helwig appears again as the slightly oblivious Silias along with Tess Higgins as the seasoned climber Yuki. Although Silias and Yuki had achieved their goal, they struggled with a troubling experience they had on the mountain. Higgins and Helwig have a remarkably quick pace to Francesca Pazniokas’ dialogue and give it a very realistic feel. At first this was excellent but after a while it became tedious and impossible to distinguish whether or not they would start talking about something interesting. When they finally did get to the heart of the play, I felt the audience had lost interest. Sarah Scafidi directed this piece in a way that did feel like I was sitting on a barstool nearby the hikers.
Next thing we know we are transported to the Orwell like world of The Red Light where everyone is being watched, even a bookstore employee played by Stephanie Garcia. Eva (Garcia) is in love with Charly, played by Artesi, but in this futuristic world, their love is forbidden. When the light is on, they must conform to the set standards for them but when the light goes off, they can speak freely. Eva dreams of escaping with her lover and living the life they have dreamed up together but Charly, who is married to a man, is beginning to have doubts. David L. Williams, playwright, captures a very real fear of what the future could potentially be like and Gus Heagerty, director, brought this world to life.
The next play, Choosing You, followed Aurora, who was played by Myers, through her relationships with her wife (Helbig) and longtime boyfriend (Sparacino). Myers gave a moving performance of this conflicted woman torn between her two loves. Playwright Rachel Lynett wrote a very strong script for these versatile actors to play with and the story was strongly supported by Lex Davis’ direction. The usage of the stage to appear to be one home shared by residents not knowing the others are there was a powerful image of the way Aurora was living her life.
The final play in this set was The Meth in Method which was a delightful parody of the corporate world and millennials, groups that make up most Washingtonians. Helwig returned as Rufus, the tough bouncer type who kills the opposition and completely ran away with the play. His performance was closely followed by Kelsey Murphy who played the eager and awestruck intern at the meth company. Tommy Partl created an amusing play where meth was a corporate career.
Secrets and Sound
The first play, The Ferberizing of Coral, features a clever script by Patrick Flynn and very well directed by Anne Donnelly. David Johnson was a young and nervous father who just desperately wants his baby girl to stop crying. His wife, played by Rebecca Ballinger, was strict and wanted to teach their daughter to self soothe by the book. As they listen to the baby monitor they begin to hear Coral, their daughter, speak and as she ages, she tells them how letting her cry alone in her crib ruined her life. We then hear Kevin (Johnson) and Karen’s (Ballinger) parents tell them about how they never let their children cry. The relationship between Kevin and Karen seemed forced and the emotion, surface. Flynn wrote a great reminder for parents that no one really knows the best thing for a child and they might end up messed up either way.
Elayne Heilveil’s In Between the Drops might have had a better story but the performance seemed low stakes and therefore made the script seem a bit weaker than it probably was. Madeline Burrows plays a young actress, Ms. Shafer, who has come into the police station to tell a story. The officer, played by Mediombo Fofana, listens but cynically. Perhaps Fofana was going for something comical but it came off disjointed. Perhaps with a bit more workshopping and maybe if it was longer than ten minutes, Heilveil would develop a more compelling story. Director Kevin Place did do a great job of creating a realistic place with natural movement in the actors.
Everett is new in town and, although a straight man, finds that he gets along better with gay men. Not knowing how to meet gay people, he gets on a gay dating site. In what appeared to be a hook up he meets Curtis. Everett’s gay best friend Brandon is encouraging him along the way. Curtis does some snooping and finds that Everett has bad musical taste. Not only is it bad. It’s straight. This leads to a heartfelt journey about friendship. Playwright John Bavoso wrote a very funny play which was well directed by Matt Ripa. Brandon, played by Patrick Joy, was steady and graceful in contrast to Gregory Atkin’s Curtis who entered the room with a mighty flourish. They both frame Andrew Flurer’s ultra-straight Everett with ease and all three had a great chemistry. Bavoso wrote a hilarious script full of excellent, and excellently terrible, music.
The second half of the evening began in a missile silo where Burrows (Maria) and Fofana (Harvey) have been for the last five years. They went underground during a time of nuclear unrest and are not really sure what the outside world is like. They have been listening to the same voice drone on the whole time listing a series of one and zeros. On this day, they have the opportunity to get out. Kevin Place directed Adam’s Temptation and immediately the audience felt confined and uncomfortable, much like the characters. The consistent sound of the mechanical voice was unsettling and definitely set the tone for the play. The acting from Fofana and Burrows was much strong and the chemistry was good. Adam Piland, playwright of Adam’s Temptation, created a world where we didn’t actually know what happens and are blindly following orders. It was an interesting exploration of a potentially post-apocalyptic world where our actions may or may not have severe consequences.
Next came Sign Language, which was incredibly compelling. Katrina Clark played Liam, a mute person trying to do community service for committing arson. Her interpreter was her best friend Benny, played by Aaron Loggins, who had gone deaf at the end of primary school. The two have been best friends since they were children, with the addition of Dustin. The story shows how these two friends are coping with the loss of their buddy. Throughout the whole play the stakes were high and in the moments without spoken language, the anger and hurt was evident in the sign. It was a remarkable example of using American Sign Language in the theatre. Joshua Reinhardt wrote a moving story and Ripa did a great job of keeping it authentic.
The final play, I Don’t Know, was light hearted and charming. A drill sergeant, played by Kevin McGuinness is used to singing the same offensive verses to keep the troops marching together. But, these recruits are socially minded and know the proper language to use and are consistently correcting him. James McLindon wrote a very funny play that shows how the words we use are constantly changing as we become more aware of our place in the world. Towards the end, Sergeant considers giving up, but luckily the privates remind him that this is like any battle and he cannot surrender. Donnelly’s direction was compelling as the troop was pretty much always in motion. It was an encouraging reminder that even though it might seem daunting, being respectful to all people is possible.
Heroes and Home
A Whiff of Humanity started off the night with its quirky charm. The play, directed by Rachael Murray, is set during a job interview at the TSA where a lawyer is representing her client due to “anti-human discrimination.” Oh, her client is a dog. Half dog. Half human. And he is denied employment because of his humanness. Connor Hogan plays Jeff the half-dog with adorable ease. He has a strong physical vocabulary and the audience can’t help but smile when he gets excited and wags his nonexistent tail. Mark Eisman’s play is a cute concept but could use some more fleshing out.
The scene changes to Maximillian Gill’s Love and Minor Destruction, where an Indian-American girl Nisha, played by Ariana Almajan, is telling her boyfriend, played by Joseph Graf, about the Hindu goddess Kali. Kali is not the goddess that should be worshiped by good girls and her ultra-traditional parents, played by Vanita Kalra and Shawn Jain, are concerned that she won’t meet a good Indian boy to marry. They don’t know about her relationship with her white American boyfriend. Nisha is torn between her two cultures and turns to the goddess Kali. The fluidity between the moments with her parents, her boyfriend, and an excellent movement battle was well directed by Kristen Pilgrim. Gill did a great job of writing a story that shows that struggle that people living in conflicting cultures face.
We Could be Heroes, directed by Anna Lathrop, explores what hero means. Is it a young man who had gotten into some trouble but recently enlisted in the Marines? Or a plumber who shows up at 3 am to fix someone’s toilet? Or a 7th grade science teacher. Pam, played by Kimberlee Wolfson, and Hank, Danny Pushkin, have a conversation on this very topic. Pushkin’s performance as the wise yet somewhat skeptical plumber was compelling and moved this thought-provoking piece on with great pace. David MacGregor’s play causes the audience to ask questions about whether those in the armed forces are heroes or not and not discrediting the everyday heroes in our lives.
The next play, Harold Eventually Reconciles with his Sister in one Second, also featured Pushkin and Wolfson. In this play, we see a brother coming home from the military to his sister. She has just been through a funeral. We see their interaction and then with the tick of a clock it goes back and starts over, each time a little different but always ending with Wolfson saying “Say you’re home.” At first the relationship between the two felt forced but gradually the actors seemed to fall into it and it was moving. The play left the audience asking what was happening and which conversation was the real one. Lathrop’s direction kept the actors circling, much like the hands of a clock, around the stage and Jason Pizzarello’s script had us gasping in the final moments.
Hogan made a return in That Kid where he played a young boy and displayed another awkwardly cute physical performance. His character Fabian is staying with his grandmother, played by Mindy Shaw, while his mother is in the hospital. He is a troubled and bratty boy and his grandma seems overwhelmed and stressed, yet in this show we see a relationship across generations trying to find understanding. Shaw and Hogan do a great job connecting and the piece has a lot of heart.
Man in Peril takes a fabulously hysterical twist on a traditional damsel in distress, superhero story. The Man in Peril, Christopher Carillo is being rescued by Graf’s Superhero when suddenly something mysterious sucks away his super strength. The villain is played by Almajan. Alex Dremann’s play was very amusing and challenged typical gender roles in superhero stories. Pilgrim did a great job directing this ultra-fun play.
All three events were delightfully smart and fun. They were an excellent display of everything that the Source Festival is about and a great example of Washington theatre.
Running Time: Approximately seventy-five minutes, with one intermission
The Source Festival runs through July 3 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW, Washington DC 20009. For tickets call 1-866-811-4111 or purchase them online.