The Austin Chronicle

Random Acts of Magic

The 2015 batch of Out of Ink 10-minute plays is a satisfying buffet of silliness and thoughtfulness

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, May 1, 2015, Arts

What do a witch, a parrot, and a bartender all have in common? The first answer is, not much. The second answer is, they're all roles played by one of the actors in Random Acts of Magic, this year's Out of Ink offering from ScriptWorks.

Out of Ink is a variety set. The annual ScriptWorks production uses short plays by member writers, drafted over the course of a weekend from three prompts and revised over a few rehearsals. The spirit of the thing is not knowing what you'll get as a producer or as an audience member.

In the past, I've been involved at various times as a writer, dramaturg, and script judge. I also socialize with a few of this year's talent. But then, who in Austin hasn't been involved? Eight writers, five directors, a dozen actors, and a design team power this year's production. Multiply that by the 17 times that Out of Ink has run, and you have more people than there are seats at this year's venue, Hyde Park Theatre.

The prompts for this year instructed the playwrights to include a piece of magic, a wardrobe switch, and a character's most embarrassing moment, and the result includes a few silly comedies, a few thoughtful pieces, and one or two serious works. In order of performance, it's nursery rhyme adaptation (silly), time warp in a bar (thoughtful), revealing date night (serious), fairy tale (silly), a tale of aging (thoughtful), teen angst (thoughtful), sisterly conflict (serious), and performing animals (silly).

As is common with the short-play format, a number of the plays suffer from how-do-I-end-this?-itis. Having said that, the evening overall is worthwhile and interesting. How will eight writers handle the most embarrassing moment for a character, for example? It could be giving birth to frogs, being turned down for a dance, or the kind of public moment that reveals a person's cruelty. The second act comes out stronger on average, with plays either exploring more original concepts or writing about common ideas with a unique voice. ScriptWorks ordered the shows smartly, with clean transitions and finishing on the highest of the comedic notes, Kirk German's play about angsty performing animals.

ScriptWorks also delivers on a tight budget, per usual. The design team succeeds in providing bare-bones but sufficient staging for a wide range of plays. (Remember the parrot-witch-bartender?)

The longstanding strength of the Out of Ink productions is bringing together a great and supportive cast and set of directors who can spin gold. For fellow theatre artists, it's a nice buffet of who's working in town right now who's good with new work. For other audiences, well, it's fun. The 10-minute play format is kind of like a tapas bar. Nothing on its own will fill you all the way up, and the idea is to open yourself to trying many things. It's a pleasant and satisfying course.

Random Acts of Magic

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through May 2
Running time: 2 hr.

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