"3 for the 10th" is the umbrella title of the three one-act plays the Vagabond Players are presenting as part of the 10th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival. It's a catchy title for an evening of heavy-duty issues, ranging from death to whether God exists.
However, all three of the young playwrights leaven their subjects with humor, and, in the case of the two better efforts, there's a stab at character development as well.
Actually, Willy Conley's "The Hearing Test" makes more than a stab. It succeeds so well in depicting a deaf teen-ager and his well-meaning hearing mother, that we'd like to know more about them.
Set in the office of an insensitive audiologist (Anne B. Mulligan), the play focuses on the right of self-expression. Thirteen-year-old Michael, affectingly played by Van Ennis, wants to learn sign language. But his mother (Joyce Bauer) is convinced that talking with his hands will not only set him apart, but will eventually set him back in the work force.
One of the more clever aspects of the play is the device Mr. Conley uses to let the audience know what Michael is thinking. His thoughts are interpreted in sign by one actor and spoken aloud by another, who doubles as the deejay on the radio station being played in the audiologist's waiting room.
At the end of the play, the audience knows what Michael wants for himself, and there's reason to believe he'll eventually get it. But how? And when? And what effect will it have on his mother? "The Hearing Test" is the one script of the evening that could benefit from being expanded to two acts.
Brian Patrick McCormick's "Talk of God," as its title suggests, is the play that questions God's existence. This sounds like the stuff of college bull sessions, but the playwright takes a refreshingly light, theatrical and contemporary approach to this metaphysical theme.
The play takes place in an insane asylum where one inmate (Jon Lipitz), insists he talks with God, another (Brian Applestein), denies God's existence and a third (Joe Leatherman), claims to be God. Although all three are confined in straitjackets, director Carol Oles keeps the action highly physical. And, wisely, the playwright poses more questions than he answers.
On the other hand, Robert Dunn's "Life in the Last Act" essentially raises only one question and then repeatedly hints at the answer before didactically spelling it out. Despite some minor laughs along the way, the play is basically a single, prolonged metaphorical joke.
Without spoiling the punch line, it's safe to explain that the Last Act is the name of a bar where the regulars await a final, fateful phone call. When a stranger wanders in, they marvel that he can't figure out what's going on, and frankly, so do we, since the playwright makes it so obvious.
'3 for the 10th' When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 14.
Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway.