The Baltimore Playwrights Festival is a chance for local writers, directors, actors and audiences to test brand-new plays. This annual festival's full-length plays have the luxury of time to prove themselves, but its one-act plays have to deliver the goods pretty quickly.
Collectively titled "The Things We Do — An Evening of One-Acts," the three plays being directed by Lynn Morton at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre demonstrate that a compilation of such plays can be a frustrating exercise.
The evening's first play, Adam Meyer's "Protest," is so short and breezy that it lasts about as long as it takes you to settle into your seat. This 10-minute-long comedy involves two strangers, Tyler (C-Mo Molloy) and Lizzie (Siobhan Beckett), who are brought together on a picket line. Startled that they're the only people who showed up to protest, they awkwardly get to know each other.
Their picket signs and also their conversation emphatically make clear that they're opposed to "Flerbing." It's a nonsensical word made up by the playwright, who playfully makes it sound like something bad without ever specifying what it is.
"Protest" amounts to an enjoyable appetizer that leaves you hoping the remaining theatrical courses will be more substantial.
The next play served up, Mark Scharf's "Replay," has a very promising start. Josh (C-Mo Molloy) and Leann (Rachael Lee Rash) evidently have spent a weekend together in what seems like the initial stages of a romantic relationship. The playwright's skillful writing and the actors' deliberate pacing make us hang on every word, because the basic biographical information is incrementally dispensed.
It would not be fair to reveal where this play is headed, so suffice it to say that Scharf takes it in an effectively bracing direction. What's frustrating about "Replay" is that it's too terse for its own good. Although it's marginally longer than "Protest," its 12-minute running time is as surprising as its climax.
During an intermission that lasts slightly longer than either of those plays, you have plenty of time to share your feeling that you would love to settle into a short play that isn't quite so, er, short.
Rebecca Wyrick's "A Good Brain Is Hard to Find," which clocks in at 45 minutes, satisfies in that respect. It's also a more ambitious play in terms of having a larger cast, several different locations and a dystopian sci-fi story requiring a bit of set design and costuming.
Taking place at some indeterminate time in the future, this play involves a genetic scientist, Hannah West (Siobhan Beckett), whose experiments to create new human life from old DNA material have put her at odds with an autocratic political regime. The villains in this moral drama are Inspector Ohls (Andrea Bush) and a leader known simply as Council (Rachael Lee Rash).
Although Hannah's scientific mentor, Frederick Waldman (Alexander Scally), qualifies as a good guy, he's been institutionalized by the regime and is either mad or pretending to be mad. Then there is Henry (C-Mo Molloy), whose more complete identity you deserve to discover on your own.
The playwright is thematically blunt about pitting the inquisitive scientists against the repressive authorities, but what the play lacks in nuance it gains in argumentative directness. Numerous scene changes are adeptly handled, and the story kicks ahead at a steady pace.
What's mildly disappointing is something you'll realize within the first few minutes of "A Good Brain Is Hard to Find." Wyrick's plot is so similar to "Frankenstein" that you may find yourself doing an academic point by point comparison. The setting in the future only marginally sets Wyrick's play apart from Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel and the many movie versions it has spawned.
Although Wyrick's play could use a more powerful spark of originality, it does come alive. "A Good Brain Is Hard to Find" may not be electrifying entertainment, but it will keep your own brain cells occupied.
"The Things We Do — An Evening of One-Acts" runs through Aug. 26 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street in Baltimore. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-15. Call 410-752-1225 or go to http://www.spotlighters.org.