The Performant: Big ideas, small packages

Pub date December 22, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

Taking size of the One-Minute Play Festival and Monsters of Accordion

I’m a sucker for miniaturization. Sushi erasers, super-strong magnets, marzipan fruit baskets, teeny-weeny screwdrivers; anything you can pack into a matchbox or stuff into a watch-pocket makes my spirits soar. So I was naturally keen to take in the One-Minute Play Festival at Thick House. Sixty-three 60-second plays performed in a quicksilver stream of actors, action, and scene. A good example of where miniature does not automatically equate “cute” or “precious” but rather “succinct” or “direct,” the one-minute play is an exercise in brevity and restraint.

Without time for lengthy exposition or backstory, the plays had to cut straight to the heart of a single moment of impact. Admittedly, many of the moments chosen by playwrights basically amounted to humorous set-ups with stand-up style punchlines — a PTA meeting of horny housewives (“P Trois A,” by Lauren Gunderson), a vengeful lover ordering a swarm of poisonous jellyfish online (“Irukanji,” by Steve Yockey), a pair of odes to male bonding ritual (“Manly Men,” by Qui Nguyen; “Handshake,” by Erin Bregman). But other plays sought to explore loss (“Kosovo,” by Garret Jon Groenveld), revenge (“Last Chance,” by Elizabeth Gjelten), and betrayal (“Later, a Letter,” by Evelyn Jean Pine).

What became swiftly apparent was that while it’s really difficult to tell an individual playwright from another in just one minute, the individual directors who were each given twelve to thirteen minutes worth of stage time apiece were able to really stamp their own personal signatures onto the proceedings. Paul Cello went for stylized movement and uniform basic black outfits for all his actors, Meridith McDonough and Jonathan Spector used plenty of props, Desdemona Chiang used extra actors and paid extra attention to lighting and sound design. It made me interested to see them take the experiment of the one-minute play festival even further. What if you had one one-minute play… and sixty directors? Would it be an exercise in déjà vu—or something possibly much more intriguing?
Meanwhile, at Slim’s, the “Monsters of Accordion” (aka “Jason Webley and friends”) were exploring humor and tragedy in their own way with that most bizarrely beloved all-purpose instrument of all time—the piano accordion. Talk about the wonders of miniaturization! An accordion may not be a small instrument, but the number of instruments it can take the place of can turn a single master wielder into an orchestra unto themselves. And when you get an entire pack of them onstage together, well, “monsters” is a good descriptor! Also passionate geeks and secret saboteurs of the mundane. From the sinuous swing of The Petrojvic Blasting Company, the Cajun stomp of local gal, and lone button accordionist, Renee de la Prade, or the gleefully demented Bacteria song first written by Webley for a roomful of scientists studying fruit-bat fellatio, the stylistic range spanned continents, eras, possibilities. And much like acollection of short-attention-span-style plays, included humor, collaboration, applause.