Sitting Room Only

Local Arts Reviews

Sitting Room Only: Complex Characters and Choices -- All in 10 Minutes

Hyde Park Theatre, through June 28

Running Time: 1 hr, 50 min

Take some 40 local playwrights out for a weekend, and give them this directive: Write a 10-minute play that must include three specific elements. First, the only furniture is a single chair; second, time is running out (literally or figuratively); third, the same question must be asked three times and answered in three different ways. Sounds easy? You try it. Austin Script Works did, and of the numerous submissions, eight have been picked for presentation in the annual Out of Ink Festival. This year's crop is outstanding throughout.

Among the mix are a number of plays that take on some fairly serious situations yet treat them with sensitivity and not a little humor. Relationships have broken down and lives are being pieced back together in Vicki Caroline Cheatwood's excellent The Fling in Question, as a newly divorced woman moves into her grotty apartment. Another couple is on the verge of breaking apart in Jessica Hedrick's funny and poignant Hair Today, where a young stylist attends to the needs of one of her regulars. Both of these gems are peopled with characters finely wrought and multilayered. Monika Bustamante's Flatline in Midair also has characters full of complexities; in this case it's a couple about to get married, but is it truly the right choice? Darker material is dealt with in The Chair, by Chronicle Arts writer Molly Rice, as two young girls await their father's imminent and unwelcome return (although the titular piece of furniture is nearly impossible to see from half the house -- a confusing choice, given its importance). Both Tim Bauer's A Brief Moment for Pausing and Chris Alonzo's basement. stretch reality a little, allowing the audience to see the inner wackiness of characters like Phyllis in Pausing, a busy receptionist hellbent on getting that brief moment of meditative calm in an unusually trying day, and the Husband in basement., whose fantasy life may be overtaking his real life in an increasingly disturbing way.

The plays are neatly directed by a contingent of directors with the help of a pair of dramaturges -- and the playwrights could not have asked for better teams. Even more impressive are the actors, diving into their multiple roles over the course of the evening, adding detail to characters who only have 10 minutes (if that) to offer their life stories. Although everyone puts in good turns, extra kudos go to Ken Bradley, Rebecca Robinson, Bethlyn Gerard, and Derek Mudd for their well-wrought characters, and Yasmin Kittles finds a fine balance between unbelievably wacky and oddly normal with her beset-upon characters.

Speaking of beset, there is a pair of slightly wilder plays: Marshall Ryan Maresca's Freaks of Nature and Acts of God and Thirty-Two Awkward Silences by Randy Wyatt. The former pits three blanket- and underwear-clad castaways against the elements: a freak storm that has bereft them of all their vacation possessions, leading to some off-the-wall comedic situations; the latter is an extended theatrical device, bordering on improv, where four actors and a referee attempt to re-create those 32 awkward silences. As with any sketch comedy, it's hit and miss throughout, and that whistle in such an intimate space can hurt the ears, but it's a great way to give a fine evening of new work a bright, boisterous ending.

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Sitting Room Only, Austin Script Works, Out of Ink Festival, Vicki Caroline Cheatwood, The Fling in Question, Jessica Hedrick, Hair Today, Monika Bustamante, Flatline in Midair The Chair, Molly Rice, Tim Bauer, A Brief Moment for Pausing, Chris Alonzo, basement., Ken Bradley, Rebecca Robinson, Bethlyn Gerard, Derek Mudd, Yasmin Kittles, Marshall Ryan Maresca

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