Arts Review

The charm of ScriptWorks' annual showcase of 10-minute plays is in its potluck nature

Arts Review

Out of Ink: Forgetting Finnegan

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 474-7886

Through April 16

Running time: 2 hr.

Each year for better than a dozen years now, ScriptWorks has challenged its cadre of writers, at present numbering more than a hundred, to write 10-minute plays in only 48 hours, with each play based on a series of conditions. A handpicked panel then reviews the finished plays, and from those selects a number to be presented in the annual Out of Ink showcase. (And while I'm on the subject: It might be interesting to know just how many cities outside of our little theatrical mecca have organizations of hundreds of people solely committed to the craft of playwriting, and how many of those organizations have a showcase as interesting and original as Out of Ink, the very title of which is a Rorschach test for the person reading it.) Each of the conditions for the plays is contributed by a separate individual. This year's conditions: Each play must include a "ceremony of forgetting," the dialogue must include passages from both the end and beginning of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and "time is running out."

If you consider the conditions surrounding the writing, you might expect the writers to produce plays that, while not being all the same, are very similar, which presents a viewing challenge not often encountered. In addition, because the work really is "showcased" rather than "produced," the production values are quite low, adding yet another challenge for the viewer, who must imagine much of what is being played out. This lack of production values and limited subject matter over the course of eight different stories places tremendous emphasis on the skills of the writers (as it should, given the nature of the evening) and on the actors, the carriers of the stories. This points out the greatest advantage of the exercise for the viewer: When it's working, you pretty much know exactly why.

Take, for example, the most successful piece in the evening: "Entropy," directed by Sharon Sparlin. (And yes, I'm going to spoil some of this, so stop reading here if you're going to see it.) In it, two scientists, Boson (Jose Marenco) and Higgs (Jacob Trussell), gradually discover that they are caught in a time loop. Playwright Marshall Ryan Maresca changes up the repetitive dialogue in each successive scene so that we discover what is happening at the same time the scientists do, utilizing just enough techno-speak to make it all sound real and possible, while actors Morenco and Trussell use a blistering tempo, a chair on wheels, a laptop, and not much else to make us imagine huge control rooms, massive computers, and the swirling vortex of time. Plus, it's laugh-out-loud funny.

With eight playwrights, four directors, and 10 actors (not to mention a couple of dramaturges thrown in for good measure), not only the approach of the individuals involved but also the style of the material will fluctuate wildly. And therein lies the real charm of the evening: It's a potluck, and there's no telling what Mama's bringing to the table next.

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Out of Ink: Forgetting Finnegan, ScriptWorks, Sharon Sparlin, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Jose Marenco, Jacob Trussell

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