Out of Ink 2017: Object Lessons

This year’s crop of new 10-minute plays captures the apprehension in the air but with creativity and craft

The end is nigh.

That's the message that comes through again and again in Object Lessons, the 19th edition of ScriptWorks' annual Out of Ink showcase. The eight 10-minute plays presented here may have been penned by different hands, but most toll the same midnight bell. It doesn't matter whether you're an immigrant from Mexico, a much-loved pooch, Lady Liberty, or the whole damn planet, they tell us, the clock has just about run out.

Blame this bleak outlook on the current occupant of the White House. All of the plays here were written over the same 48-hour period – dubbed the Weekend Fling by ScriptWorks – and it so happens that the 2016 Fling occurred just one week after the November election. Add to that the fact that one of the three rules guiding this year's writers was "The play must contain a ritual of inauguration," and you can see why you-know-who was taking up a bigly amount of the writers' brain space as they cranked out these works. Trump appears in a few plays and is referenced in others, but even those in which he isn't present give the impression of having been written in reaction to him, playing off his pursuit of power or off repressive, regressive policies that many fear are waiting in the wings to be implemented.

But even though the overarching message here is grim, the ways in which it's delivered are generally not. Along with the rule about including a ritual of inauguration, this year's plays had to somehow feature the thoughts/statements of an inanimate object and have time continually expand or contract for at least one of the characters. That sparked some imaginative approaches to dramatic situations, such as Max Langert's cosmic view of human history in "The Apes," wherein Earth, the moon, and Mars are portrayed as people talking to and dancing around one another, and Earth's inhabitants are represented by one "ape" who evolves in minutes from grunting caveman to Marc Antony to Trump. Eventually, Earth succumbs to a fever and a spacesuit-helmeted future leader goes chasing after Mars. In Amparo Garcia-Crow's "Sawing a Woman in Half," 45 shows up as a huckster magician whose signature trick is explained by a personification of the cabinet in which two female assistants do the actual work of contorting their bodies to create the illusion. In Raul Garza's "There and Back," an immigrant in 1961 lives through 50 years in moments, seeing how her life in the U.S. plays out through children and grandchildren and today's anti-immigrant prejudice, then is able to return to the time we first see her and choose another path. And in "Smiley," Lowell Bartholomee manages to make the heart-tugging scene of a dear pet on his last legs (literally – the dog Smiley can't even pull itself to a standing position) as funny as it is sorrowful by giving the animal a voice and keen perceptions of human and canine behavior. ("I love them," he says of his owners. "And I love chicken. But not in that order.")

All of the plays here are well-served by their actors and directors. David DuBose nails the noble spirit of Smiley, and Johanna Whitmore is the image of compassion as the veterinarian who's come to take his life. Her turn there is an impressive contrast from the one she gives in Jason Rainey's dystopian "Free Hands," where she embodies a frightening form of authoritarianism: the religious fundamentalist with no room for dissent from holy writ; her icy severity brings chills. Generating heat, on the other hand, are Katy Taylor and Michael Joplin in Sarah Saltwick's compelling "Responsible," which puts their characters alone in the woods, where the discharge of a firearm grows increasingly seductive. Then there's Gricelda Silva in "There and Back" playing a candle of the Virgen de Guadalupe come to life with a surprising and delightful 21st century sass. And Rudy Ramirez's staging of "Sawing a Woman in Half," with magic-act gymnastics from Taylor and Silva, and Lily Wolff's staging of Rita Anderson's "The New Colossus," played as a brisk pageant, infuse those two plays with lively theatricality.

Being witness to so much creativity and craft here suggests that while the forecast may be gloomy for you, me, and the world, for the theatre the future is still sunny. Which gives rise to the notion that, despite all the apprehension in the air, perhaps the Earth still has a few good turns left in it. Or as the lead character in Trey Deason's "Angelica's Source of Power" sagely puts it: "The world does what it does. It spins forward."

Out of Ink 2017: Object Lessons

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through May 6
Running time: 1 hr., 35 min.

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ScriptWorks, Out of Ink, Raul Garza, Max Langert, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Jason Rainey, Lowell Bartholomee, Trey Deason, Rita Anderson, Sarah Saltwick, Katy Taylor, Michael Joplin, Gricelda Silva, Johanna Whitmore, David DuBose, Rudy Ramirez, Lily Wolff

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