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The Seven, the 6th Annual New Works Festival

The Seven, the 6th annual New Works Festival from Fusion Theatre Company, featured seven short plays from around the country. This year's theme, Tangled Webs, provided the audience with complex, often ironic, psychological dramas. Short one-acts, ten to fifteen minutes long, are hard to write and sometimes hard to watch, as a bevy of characters, plots, styles and themes burst one after another—the whole is not always greater than the sum of the parts. I'm happy to say that this year's festival was thoroughly enjoyable, often brilliant, theatre. Fusion@The Cell did a fine job of creating an organic production that delved into our collective American psyche, past and present.

Kudos to the production staff—including Dennis Gromelski as Coordinator, Maria Lee Schmidt as Stage Manager, and Richard K. Hogle, Set & Lighting Design—for establishing complete environments with great efficiency and maximum metaphoric value for the diverse subject matter. The seven directors established foregrounding rhythms and a masterful sense of rising and falling action within each brief time frame. The cast, several of whom played multiple roles, showed remarkable fluidity as well. The following gives a snapshot of each play.

Jamie Pachino's Status Update played with our obsessions about social media, particularly Facebook. A couple's relationship pivots 180 degrees over the issue of whether or not to "publish" their changed status online after they've slept together. The play, directed by Josh Klein, puts the dilemma of what is public vs. what private literally center stage. In a summer where the sexual peccadilloes of politicians occupy the headlines, the play ironically sends up our cravings to be special in the internet age.

Water/A Shot in the Dark, written by Christopher Kent, is a story of war buddies in an episode of friendly fire. The play hinges on the revelation that one soldier has accidentally (or not) shot the other. Director Laurie Thomas did a fine job of keeping the action taut, but the predictable outcome of the play is a weak point in the script.

Playing with Fire, by the New Mexican playwright Lyn Kidder, has the import of history behind it. Set in Los Alamos at the end of WWII, the play explores the impact of the development of the atomic bomb on one couple. The man (played with quiet tension by Ryan Jason Cook) is one of the physicists working on the bomb with Oppenheimer. His pregnant wife, well played by Kate Costello, symbolizes the simple patriotism and belief in the nation's integrity that characterized the times. Sound design (by Brent Stevens) and direction (Robb Sisneros) added much to this intriguing play.

The fourth play, And What a Damn Fine Morning It Is, is a hilarious send-up of consumerism in a neighborhood where aspiration is gospel. There were excellent comic turns by Paul Blott and Bruce Holmes as they escalate their oneupmanship, and director Aaron Worley's timing matched theirs. Playwright Trace Crawford has his mischievous hand on our mercantile pulse here.

The second act, opening with Two Minutes of Heroism, juxtaposes the desires and motives of a small community of people who are all affected by a convenience store shooting. Nicely choreographed by director Jacqueline Reid, the play's idea is more profound than the limited interactions allow. Playwright Matt Hanf is hampered here by the requirement of brevity. It would be satisfying if this concept could be developed at greater length where the characterizations could reach beyond stereotype.

Brian Walker's Neighborly Do's & Don'ts is utterly original and madly comic as a woman kidnaps a man who has stolen her girl scout cookies for three years running. The thief, played by Neil Faulconbridge with masterful cunning and wonderful self-deprecation, reveals that his addiction to the cookies developed during a childhood of helping his sister sell the most cookies in their town. Jen Grigg as the over-the-top neighbor seeking vengeance and the economic direction of Bruce Holmes made this short play a crowd pleaser.

Ending the sequence of plays was a dark story of family dysfunction, Formaldehyde, the jury prize winner in the festival. The longest play featured and the most complexly drawn, this story of an anger-addicted husband, a desperate but passive wife, and a gutsy daughter constantly took new and unexpected turns. The cast—Bruce Holmes, Wendy Scott, and Lauren Myers—were inspired in this unpredictable drama well-directed by Jen Grigg.

The Seven played June 9-12, 2011 at The Cell Theater at 700 1st St. NW in Albuquerque, NM. For more information on this excellent company with a history of polished, professional productions, go to www.fusionabq.org.

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Lynn Miller



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