PROVO — If you are part of the fast food, high speed internet generation, then the Echo Theatre has an event just for you. Echo 10 is a festival of 10-minute plays lasting three days. Thursday and Friday featured different six plays each, and tonight the best three from each day will be performed again.
The first show on Thursday, The Goodbye Party, written by Stephen Peirick and directed by Deven Skaggs, centered on two sisters, Lily and Brenda (played by Mary Garlitz and Liesl Cope). Lily has just lost her husband, and the story deals with the emotional impact of the death on the two women. The actress who played Lily (I’m not sure whether it’s Garlitz or Cope) did a wonderful job showing the emotional distress of a widow. Her sister Brenda, who looked like she could be her mother, played an adequate sister trying to provide emotional support. Skaggs’s blocking of the show seemed a little unfocused at times but overall was effective in telling the story.
The second show on Thursday was My Heart Belongs to Daddy, written by Susan Rowan Masters and directed by Eileen Nagle. In this story a daughter (Eileen Nagle) is caring for her ailing father (Curtis Adams). She is worried that her father may do something drastic and tries to prevent anything bad from happening. As the writing was lacking a clear focus (because it was unclear what the father was planning for most of the play), the saving grace of this piece was Adams’s physical comedy. Unfortunately, there was a last minute replacement change in cast for the daughter character, and it was clear that Nagle’s performance was the less practiced of the two. My biggest complaint, though, is that the ending of the piece seemed to halt without a clear resolution.
Green Lighting, my favorite piece on Thursday, is a charming play written by Mark Weisenberg that tells the story of two young children who grow up and meet again as adults. Dana Yvonne Anquoe‘s directing was the best of the evening because it clearly established the age and relationship of the characters. I loved the music, lighting choices, and the chemistry between the characters (played by Clayton Cranford and Madison Dennis) was believable and fun to watch.
The fourth show of the night, How the Horseman Came About, written by J. Omar Hansen and directed by Daniel Riggs, was the weakest play on Thursday. It tells the story of a man (Michael Riggs) who meets the headless horseman. The man is being pursued by a banshee (Ashlee Riggs) and wonders how to escape his predicament. The directing was full of messy blocking that didn’t help the actors tell the story. As for the acting, the headless horseman’s severed head, played by a puppet voiced by Daniel Riggs, was the most expressive actor of the piece.
Waiting for Hugot, written by C. J. Ehrlich and directed by Hannah Roskelley is about a wife (Julianna Blake) who must deal with her husband’s (Steve Aaron) obsession with meeting a Hollywood actress who has moved in next door. Roskelley’s directing was some of the strongest of the festival, with excellent pacing and blocking that supported the story. The Blake and Roskelley were believable as a couple who had been married for several years, and both performers created surprisingly well-developed characters for such a short piece.
If you could ask only one question that would be answered correctly, what would it be? This is the premise of All the Answers, written by Mark Cornell and directed by Zachary Vineyard. This story is of a man name Joe (played by Tyler Harris) who has just died and has ten minutes with an all-knowing Isabelle (played by Amber Dodge) who can answer one and only one question for him. The play focuses on Joe’s struggles to determine what he truly wants to know the answer to. Harris’s comedic timing was the ingredient that made the piece enjoyable. However, I wished that Dodge would have had more variety in her physicality; she spent much of the play just folding her arms. The writing was very strong in this play, and I felt really connected to the characters at the end of the short ten minute play.
Friday night’s shows were generally the weaker, but there was still some good material. The first show of the night was Gold Digger, written and directed by Georgia Bowen Buchert. This show was about a grave digger who unexpectedly finds another coffin while doing his job. If this synopsis sounds vague it is because the biggest weakness of Gold Digger was the unfocused plot. Most of the ten minutes seemed to be exposition, and the script never fully developed a conflict. Despite this, I enjoyed the acting (from Chris Bentley, Belinda Purdum, Gabe Fumudu, and Robert Lees Johnson) and directing of this piece, which resulted in distinguishing characters. There’s enough going on here, though, that Gold Digger could be expanded to a strong full-length play. Ten minutes just wasn’t long enough to tell a complete story.
Friday’s second show Taste, a story written by Brooke Downs about a husband (Greg Benson) and wife (Amber Dodge) discussing their future over dinner at a restaurant. If you would have asked me during the first 7 minutes how the two characters were related to each other, I couldn’t have told you. There was no chemistry between the characters, and the dialogue was grating and shallow. The wife was completely unlikable, and I couldn’t figure out how the man would like her. I do know opposites attract, but the directing from Belinda Purdum never showed me why I should believe these people were married. Like some of the other plays on Friday, the conflict in this play was too vague for me to be interested.
The third show on Friday was The Shoelace, written by Chelsea Hickman and directed by Jennifer Chapin Mustoe. This was the story of a girl (Maren VonNiederhausern) who has gone to BYU after she and her boyfriend (Caden Mustoe) had messed up and had premarital sex. The Shoelace shows her guilt and how her faith is tested after their mistake. I enjoyed the beginning of the play because of the lighting choice that set the mood and the charming image of the boy playing his guitar. Unfortunately, the acting in this piece was constantly awkward. The two actors had could never pass as a couple in a relationship. This made a play solely about their relationship suffer.
Joshua French’s The Tyrant, directed by Robbie X. Pierce, might be about John Wilkes Booth and his conspirator as they prepare to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. However, the play seemed to take place in two time periods without a clear shift in time. I think the author wanted to compare today’s reactions to Obama to reactions to Lincoln. But that’s just my guess. I felt the acting in this play (from Greg Benson and AJ Taysom) was sufficient with what they had to work with. Unfortunately, the directing didn’t help make the playwright’s message clear, nor did it communicate the exact nature of the characters.
The quality of the shows of Friday night picked up with Story Problem, written by Davey Morrison Dillard and directed by Chase Keala Ramsey. This was a non-linear piece which was refreshing after 10 linear plots. Story Problem tells of six young people with relationship frustrations because no two of them are attracted to each other. I felt the script was very clever, and the acting (from Billy Hagee, Bethany Woodruff, Maddie Belle Forsyth, James Mckinney, Jyllian Unice, and Tyler Harris) was some of the best of the night. It got the most laughs of any show at the festival, thanks to the acting, directing and script. Kudos to everyone involved for giving the audience a clever premise and witty dialogue.
The final show of the festival was The Funeral, written by Samuel Prescott Hansen and directed by Julie Hauwiller. This show told a story of two strangers who meet at the funeral of the woman’s somewhat distant relative. They challenge each other’s belief systems, which culminated in a surprise ending. I felt the directing in this play was very strong; the blocking was simple and told the story without any fluff. The actors clearly defined their characters, and I enjoyed the interactions they had with each other. Plus, the choice to have organ music playing in the background was a very simple but effective way to set the mood.
So, that’s the roundup of the twelve short plays featured in this year’s Echo 10 festival. Tonight’s program includes performances of the best six plays and awards for the best actor, best actress, best script, best directing, and best overall production. The competition in all of these categories is fierce, but surely tonight’s audience will be the biggest winner of all.