By Katie Tabeling
With such an ambiguous title, “The Fall 2011 One-Act Play Festival,” it is difficult to form expectations on the performance.
Throughout Chestertown, it was well-advertised that the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater would be hosting a series of one-acts; they just seemed to neglect focus on the titles of the short plays themselves (which are “The Ugly Duckling,” by A.A. Milne, “The Way of All Fish,” by Elaine May, and “The Hysterical Misogynist,” by Murray Schisgal, by the way).
In any case, the concept of a One-Act play festival leaves much to the imagination, and yet the Prince Theater managed to pull it off with success.
“The Ugly Duckling” follows the unfortunately ugly Princess Camilla (Ellen Huffman) as her royal parents (Carrington Richie and Jen Friedman) struggle to find a suitor that can suitably handle Camilla’s ‘elusive beauty.”
To entice the Prince Simon (Christopher Stokes), the King and Queen decide to have beautiful, yet stupid maid Dulciabella (Sarah Snyder) pretend to be the princess as Camilla plays her maid.
The plot is created from clichéd lessons such as “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” and the somewhat embarrassing idea of marriage leading to a ‘happily ever after’.
This plot could be carried by hamming up the cliché of fairy tales, but the way certain actors play their characters allows for very little wiggle room.
Putting the contrived plot aside, Stokes and Jim Landskroener (as the bumbling Chancellor) provide laughs, and the pretend Prince and Princess’s insipid natures add hilarity to the situation.
The tone of the Festival shifts from fairy tale fluff to off-beat dark-humored as “The Way of All Fish” begins.
It is set in a smartly-designed office. Haughty, alienated, and wealthy businesswoman Ms. Asquith (Jen Friedman) decides to spend an evening in with her doormat, hardworking secretary Miss Riverton (Anna Black) when all her plans have fallen through. While waiting for dinner to arrive, Miss Riverton reveals a darker side of her personality, such as possessing abnormal strength and a childhood desire to murder someone famous.
The psychological turns of the play (such as whether Riverton will kill her boss) and the sinister overtones are carried well with actresses Friedman and Black’s chemistry.
Black’s character’s switch from meek to indomitable at the end of the play is seamless and almost perfectly brings the phrase “It’s always the quiet ones” to life. Friedman, who previously was a little flat in “The Ugly Duckling,” shines as a patronizing, everyday boss that we all know and hate.
The ambiguous ending leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions as to what happens next between such powerhouse characters.
Continuing with the new flavor set by “Fish,” “The Hysterical Misogynist” is a no-holds barred battle of the sexes with cunning and introspective ideas of what it means to be in a relationship.
Playwright Manny (Chris Rogers) is the titular hysterical misogynist who vehemently denies being the “M-word” after his friend’s wife, Ellen (Diane Landskroener), calls him one. Inconsolable, Manny is calmed down by his best friend Phillip (Jim Landskroener) defending him and telling him exactly what he thinks Ellen wants to hear.
In this witty, sometimes pedantic, script, the actors deliver such realistic performances; it feels as if the audience is intruding on a rather private discussion between a frenetic Manny and his old friends.
While this act plays out like a vocabulary lesson to define what the ever-special “M-word” is and a didactic lesson on what women want, with such polished actors, who cares? The witty banter delivered by unique characters is enough to make any battle of the sexes play like the newest thing on the block.
Even with the off-putting beginning, this One-Act Play Festival is delightfully witty and its varying taste of humor provides something for everyone. A repeat performance will be held Sept. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m., as well as the Sept. 18 at 3 p.m.