On April 26, the Mason Theater Department presented the Seventh Annual Ten Minute Play Festival.
The end product of a grueling playwriting competition, the festival showcased the work of eight aspiring student playwrights. This competition narrowed down the submissions based on their ability to create a meaningful, well- rounded story in just ten minutes. To some, this may not seem like a great task. However, it should be noted that many great performances do not even introduce their main character in the first ten minutes, much less craft an engaging plot with a solid beginning, middle and end.
The plays’ brevity had the potential to create problems. With so little time, it can be difficult for the audience to build a connection with the characters on stage. In addition, the playwrights had to build a world on stage quick enough for viewers to feel engaged without making it confusing or contrived. The student writers and their casts managed to pull off that task seamlessly.
The festival’s performances ran the gamut of the human experience. From the literal dawn of time to a plague infested future, from silly, heartwarming romantic comedies to gritty, realistic family meltdowns. The playwrights utilized every last minute to make their characters as real and dynamic as possible, and the result was an audience that was at some times laughing out of their seats and at others holding their breaths in a contemplative silence.
Two of the performances that personified the festivals range were Open and Close, written by Emma Hull and directed by Rafael Medina, and Saturday, written by Cody Clarke and directed by Kathleen Barth. The two plays, while sharing a ten minute parameter, could not have been different, which made their juxtaposition in the first act all the more potent. Both dealt with relationships, but one focused on the sweet beginning, and the other focused on the bitter end.
Open and Close came first, opening with the main character James, played by Calil Davis, coming home after tennis practice. He begins with a short monologue explaining his father’s descent into alcohol abuse and his subtle attraction to his best friend Louisa.
From there, we are taken into his home where a tension filled family dinner spirals into a loud, expletive-rich argument between James’ mother and father. The mother, played by Cynthia Newby, wears medical scrubs and has her hair tied up in a messy topknot. Her disheveled appearance is contrasted by her frantic need to micromanage her children’s lives.
The audience is stunned to a silence. Though the play did not follow the traditional story model and ended without reaching a concrete solution, I felt as though the playwright’s intention was not to present a “traditional story”. No problem can be resolved in ten minutes, and reality is almost never as rehearsed as a play.
Open and Close was meant to be felt, not simply watched. It was a small, ten minute look inside a fragmented family. It gives the viewer just enough time to feel a personal connection with James, but cuts off before anything can be done to help him. In the end, the audience members empathize with the cast, and in turn they begin to look inwards to reflect on their own relationships.
The following play, a palate cleanser of sorts, marched to a much more upbeat tune. Saturday tells the story of a young couple, played by Cathryn Benson and Danny Issa, who are constantly being woken up by their neighbor’s lawnmower. Through a series of quirky, hilarious antics, the two are arrested for drugging and kidnapping their neighbors and stuffing them in a closet.
Though the play did not have as much emotional depth as the one that preceded it, Benson and Issa’s marvelous portrayal of the young, confused newlyweds helped to bring home the writer’s witty jokes and savvy use of “poetic justice.” At the end of the play, the two sit handcuffed on the bed and realize that even though they will probably face some heavy charges, they couldn’t be happier.
Overall, every play was a success in its own right. Each with their own world and unique cast of characters, watching these ten minute plays was something like – not to sound like a hyperbolic Tumblr user – an emotional rollercoaster.