ScriptWorks’ Out of Ink 2022: Unusual Embrace
Short-form showcase spotlights local artists in 10 minutes or less
Ten-minute plays are the amuse-bouche of theatre. Unlike their main course counterparts, these bite-sized nuggets must ask and answer interesting questions sans exposition, offer conflict without complication, and introduce characters who must be immediately intriguing for them to be the least bit effective.
As such, it could be argued they're harder to write than a full-length offering. Hell, Shakespeare never wrote one, and he certainly never wrote it in 48 hours or incorporated three ingredients into his work-in-miniature: an unusual embrace, a moment when a list becomes the only means to communicate, and something that cannot be seen by the human eye. These were the parameters for inclusion in ScriptWorks' Out of Ink 2022: Unusual Embrace – this year's installment of the Austin-based playwright incubator's somewhat annual showcase.
Participating playwrights wrote their plays during a weekend retreat in November. A selection committee read the 30-plus submissions and whittled them down to eight plays – written by Robin Anderson, Maggie Gallant, Ava Love Hanna, Andra Laine Hunter, Zac Kline, Briandaniel Oglesby, Greg Romero, and Anne Wynter – for production. Their casting was as idiosyncratic as the rest of the process, beginning with an emailed invitation to a pool of directors and actors who have worked with ScriptWorks in the past or were seen by Executive Artistic Director Christina J. Moore in other shows or in the Austin Creative Alliance general auditions. Orchestrating an evening of these plays was "like putting together a big Jenga puzzle," said Moore when asked.
The plays are being performed by an ensemble of actors comprised of Zac Carr, Giselle De La Rosa, David DuBose, Luis Gonzales, Gina Houston, Weldon Phillips, Nguyen Stanton, Jolene Stephenson, Minerva Villa, Juleeane Villarreal, and Johanna Whitmore. They are directed by Moore, Lowell Bartholomee, Carl Gonzales, Ellie McBride, and Sharon Sparlin. The production incorporates very limited lighting and scenic design, though Bartholomee's sound design – music and sound effects, mostly – nicely enrich many of the works.
The evening is a celebration of short-form storytelling and an opportunity to give eight unique voices a mighty wind, albeit in the small confines of the Hyde Park Theatre. Much of the fun of attendance is simply watching all these artists coming together to give their world-premiere works life; and though it's not a competitive sport, this showcase serves up some plays and performances that stand out from the rest in terms of creative risk-taking, cohesion, and engagement.
Wynter's delightful "Spa Day," directed by McBride, is about two women (played by Nguyen Stanton and De La Rosa) at a pandemic-inspired self-service spa. The absurd and timely premise, the plot's progression and payoff, and the clever incorporation of the required elements are a particularly winning combination.
"P, B, and Jane," which kick-starts the second half of the showcase, is an intriguing dark comedy by Hanna that features a well-intended but inept improv troupe working the room. Their solicitation of inane prompts from the audience results in brief and startling vignettes that reveal Jane's memories of religious and sexual trauma. The seamless transitions from the comic to the tragic are handled with great skill by director Moore and actors Phillips, Carr, and De La Rosa.
Among the many fine performances throughout the evening, Whitmore turns in several. She first owns the stage as the emotionally spent mother of a physically challenged boy in Oglesby's touching "One Invisible One Made of Glass"; next as a terminally ill patient in Kline's "Max, Melvin, Marvin," which is a deconstruction of dialogue between the old and dying and the young ones they are leaving behind; and then as the title character in Anderson's heart-wrenching "Gwendolyn, Who Is Dying, Has Some Things to Say."
In Maggie Gallant's "The Purple One," about a romantic Valentine's Day dinner gone awry, DuBose is brilliant as a defensive French eggplant named Auber-Gene. His physicality and line delivery are hilarious.
If the purpose of an amuse-bouche is to get your senses buzzing in anticipation of the delights yet to come, it's hard to leave Hyde Park Theatre without wondering what the Austin theatre community will be serving up next.
ScriptWorks' Out of Ink 2022: Unusual EmbraceHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/454-9727, scriptworks.org
Through April 30
Running time: 90 min.