Sampling the future on stage

Trying to stage a play in 10 minutes seems to me much like trying to pour a fifth of wine into a six-ounce glass. There’s just not enough space. This, however, is precisely the feat that the Fusion theater company in Albuquerque has tried to perform annually for 14 years. To give credit where credit is due, they come a lot closer to succeeding this year than in recent past performances that I have seen.

Although the playlets were performed only four days last week, they presented a number of intriguing and original ideas that remain worth thinking about. Meanwhile, much more can be expected from the talented writers and actors whose work we got a chance to sample. I look forward to seeing them again on the Albuquerque stage.

To choose the seven 10-page plays for “The Seven” on the audience-selected theme of “It’s now or never,” the Fusion had more than 600 submissions to choose from. The content, in at least some respects, was admirably diverse.

The most ambitious of the plays (“If We Only Knew,” written by Aren Haun of San Francisco, directed by Michael Counts and starring Gerome Olona and Rhiannon Frazier) captures the evolving relationship of a couple over a lifetime, beginning with great promise and spiraling downhill.

By contrast, another play is limited to the seconds after the destruction of the World Trade Center (“Woman on the 97th Floor” by Susan Kelejian of Ojai, California, directed by Matthew Yde and starring Blake Magnusson and Jen Grigg). A man and a woman meet during the tragedy and must choose between dying from fire or jumping.

Most of the plays try to capture a moment when a ray of truth penetrates a dialogue between a man and a woman, and by and large they succeed to a surprising extent.

Alas, the selection of plays also represented a rather stunning homogeneity. Three of the seven came from California. Most featured a heterosexual couple. None included characters who were Hispanic, black, Asian or American Indian, although these groups constitute a majority of New Mexicans. In this age of immigrant angst, there are no hyphenated Americans.

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There was, though, one rather clever play (“Fluent,” written by Chuck smith of Woodbridge, Virginia, directed by Jacqueline Reid, and starring Stafford Douglas and Nicole Bartlett) about a woman who only speaks French trying to communicate with a man who only speaks English. She ultimately succeeds via an ageless, voiceless tactic—a kiss.

The jury award winner was “Choices,” written by James McLindon, of Northhampton, Mass., directed by Jim Cady and starring Jacqueline Reid as a counselor and Quinn Scicluna as her client. It depicts a strange kind of Faustian bargain.

The client is overloaded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt and doesn’t know how to get out from under it. His financial counselor suggests he sign a 20-year contract and take out a life insurance policy.

At the end of 20 years he promises to die, either by his own hand or, if he reneges, at the hand of an assassin. Meanwhile he must make her company the beneficiary of the policy, which will pay off his debt.

You will die, the counselor consoles him, but at least you will get to enjoy the next 20 years. The client is horrified by the miserable choice between a lifetime of debt or inescapable death in 20 years, but well… you get the idea. It’s all quite funny, believe it or not.

In a nice twist, “The Seven” includes, along with a dozen Fusion veterans and out-of-town pros, two very young actors.

Adam Blanchard appears in the play “Stew,” written by Alexa Mavromatis of Rumford, Rhode Island, directed by Laurie Thomas and starring Paul Blott, who for his sturdy professionalism and ability to capture the essence of any role he performs was my favorite of the 15 participating actors.

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The other youngster was Nate Boone in “Streamliners Across America,” written by Paul Lewis of Bainbridge Island, Washington, directed by Jen Grigg, with Rachael Wiseman and Bruce Holmes. Despite his youth, Boone exhibited an impressive stage presence and natural delivery that herald a promising acting future.

“The Seven” also included “That’ s Some Eulogy,” a tour de force about a man who uses comic ambiguity to compose a eulogy about a boss he detests. It was written by Paula Fell of Corona del Mar, California, directed by Bruce Holmes and starred Matt Heath and Laurie Thomas.

“The Seven” was staged through June 8, at the Cell theater and June 9 at the KiMo Theater, both in downtown Albuquerque. On Monday at the Cell, there were readings of the runner-up seven plays. 

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