Review: Time Steps by ScriptWorks
by Michael Meigs
The gathering for Time Steps at the Blue Theatre last Thursday felt like skit night at the close of summer camp. Friendly excitement, lots of young adults, and a program based on games, brainstorming and collaborative action, intended to amuse and astound us over the course of a short evening. The Blue Theatre itself, tucked away behind the Goodwill warehouses in East Austin, is a found venue of sorts, redolent of much earnest make believe.
Austin Scriptworks stirred the pot and furnished the ingredients. At its annual Weekend Fling earlier this season, participating writers were given two days and three "ingredients" with which to build a ten-minute play:
- - The play must move backward, from end to beginning;
- - The play must include a dance break which causes a shift in the action; and
- - The play must include three things your mother told you not to do.
The harvest was eight winning scripts, presented by Austin directors and actors in six performances. By my subjective taxonomy, these included two relationship dramas, two stories of misfortunes or crimes, one fantasy drama, and three nutsy pieces. Dialogue was strong in all of them. Available actors were parceled out so that almost every face showed up in two roles during the event.
Add to that total the clever, bopping introduction to the evening in which David Gallagher, Kathleen Fletcher and Rhonda Kulhanek demonstrated the reverse time flow, danced the charleston and other steps, happily confused writing ingredients and cooking ingredients, and ended with the opening admonition to turn off cell phones. That script was uncredited and doesn't appear in the paper bound collection of the evening's scripts, available at the ticket desk for only $5.
Ten minutes isn't much time to establish and exploit a premise, especially when you're riding the unicycle backwards. Least successful were the relationship plays, perhaps because they were the most predictable, with a grim ending evolving backward toward hopefulness. Meg Haney's Where the Sidewalk Ends looked at the dilemma of a gay relationship involving a military non-com, working the interpersonal disappointments without showing much knowledge of military attitudes or realities. Sarah Saltwick's Cowboy Fantasia used four actors to play a single couple, Clint and Jolene, old and then young. Unless a spectator had studied the cast credits ahead of time, he or she might have lost that connection and, with it, the narrative thread.
Misfortunes and crimes included Marshall Ryan Maresca's Ten Minutes Ago, in which a wet stranger is sheltered by a weird married couple, and The Importance of Respecting Your Mother by Max Langert, in which woeful mama's boy Jake (Christopher Loveless) yearns to skip Friday card-playing with Mom (Rhonda Kulhanek) and gets properly hexed for his uppity attitude.
Katherine Catmull's fantasy drama Harrowing took a clever concept, amplified it with strong, vivid language and images, and provided a pungently humorous take on traditional Christian doctrine. Earlier in these writings I listed #2 of drama's Greatest Writing Clichés as "He Dies and Goes to the Afterlife and Gets Another Chance." Catmull practices deft jujitsu on that one, handing Kenneth Wayne Bradley an epic, ambiguous role. He's perfect for it, a mix of triumphalism, guilt, surging masculinity, and determination. The "harrowing" of hell, by the way, links etymologically with "harrying" or attacking. It describes the descent of Jesus to the underworld to liberate those trapped there. Author and director make the most of a different meaning, more common in current English: harrowing, or breaking open the earth so as to prepare it for new planting. So Bradley is carrying a shiny hoe and the patient man at reception says, "You harrowed hell. You drove a blade through the soil. The crust erupted. The dirt lies open, crawling with worms. It's ready to plant. What are you planting?" To be fair, the unnamed Man did liberate lots of folks from the Devil, as well, even if he didn't get it quite right. This impressive short script was brought to vigorous life by Bradley and director Ellie McBride.
That leaves the "nutsy" category, a rich one. Timothy Thomas' Hungry Love is a cute tale of teen werewolves discovering love and one another (you can tell they're "were" because of the fluffy fur they wear around their ears). Dancing Counts by Susan McMath Platt is a cakewalk for pretty, big-eyed Kelli Bland in a moo-cow suit, where she and her mysterious Aunt Charlotte should have won a dance contest and get hauled before a judge instead (or, no, since time is running backwards, we first see the exasperated Bland before the judge, then unravel the puzzle of how she got there).
And then my favorite in this category, Aimée Gonzalez's Bernard Henry's Magic Tricks. She sets up a wondrous Theatre-of-the-Absurd dysfunctional family around the bizarre youth Bernard Henry, played by the versatile David Gallagher. Sister (Michelle Keffer), whose name is not Sally, is 16 years old, wears a wedding gown, and obsesses over appearance and marital prospects. Dad (David DuBose) is hooked on the shopping channel. Mom (Rhonda Kulhanek) has three rules; number two is "Don't throw up on anything imported." Gallagher as Bernard Henry is "a 10-year-old boy, very small, dressed in a cut-off tuxedo" wearing bright red knee-high socks and intent on doing his magic trick, "The Oxygen Eraser." The humor here is in the wild characters and their nonsequiturs. Gonzalez cheats a bit on the reversed-time requirement (two scenes, the first one only about a minute long and covered with Bernard's amusing introductory monologue). As director, Ellie McBride scores again. She had exceptionally good fortune in the distribution of the scripts.
A good time was had by all, and these warming-up exercises kept everyone amused. Are any longer scripts brewing over there? As Mickey Rooney used to say to Judy Garland, "Say, kids, let's put on a show!"
Mini-interviews with the playwrights, done by Jooley Ann and published on Austinist.com:
Katherine Catmull (Harrowing)
Aimee Gonzalez (Bernard Henry's Magic Tricks)
Meg Haley (Where The Sidewalk Ends)
Max Langert (The Importance of Respecting Your Mother)
Marshall Ryan Maresca (Ten Minutes Ago)
Susan McMath Platt (Dancing Counts)
Sara Saltwick (Cowboy Fantasia)
Tim Thomas (Hungry Love)
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Springdale Rd and Lyons
behind Goodwill warehouse
Austin, TX, 78702