The annual staging of juried short plays by the Fusion Theater in Albuquerque has been a gateway into commercial and artistic success for many a budding playwright over the past 13 years. Last week and next week Fusion again gives us a window onto the wider world of national and international theater. Even more important, it gives us a window onto the future, for the playwrights we see here now in 10-minute skits will in a decade be winning Pulitzer Prizes and Emmys for full-length dramas and comedies.
Such brief plays are a kind of Whitman’s Sampler, a chance to get tastes of a diverse mixture of some of the best new theater work from around the nation and even across the globe. It is all interesting and the wide range of topics and styles is mesmerizing. These writers, many of them young and just finding their wings, will undoubtedly be seen in New Mexico—and in New York and Los Angeles as well—in major productions.
The best of the best is “Inevitable,” by Bethany Dickens, which manages somehow to capture not one but a multiplicity of lives in a funny, energetic, highly charged, fast-moving and thoroughly engaging 10 minutes or so of marvelous theater. It is nothing less than a tour de force by a young woman from Columbus, Ohio, whose day job is as an administrator for the local orchestra. I suspect we will be hearing a lot more about her in the coming years.
The setup for the brief skit is that a young nerd meets a beautiful girl and tries to decide whether to pursue a potential affair. He spins out in his mind and diagrams on a whiteboard various scenarios, all of which end badly. Nevertheless, he ultimately decides to give it a try. Why not?
It is pure magic.
Helping along with the comic development of the skit are the experienced directing of Jacqueline Reid and the skilled acting of Isaac Christie as the young nerd, Rhiannon Frazier as the girl Juliet and Paul Blott (who seems to excel at whatever tasks are assigned him) in a variety of quite funny supporting roles.
The seven skits making up Fusion’s offering, eponymously titled “The Seven,” also include two well-crafted bits by Jim Henry, an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and actor from Chicago. It is exceptional for the Fusion’s jury to have selected two plays by the same author, but Henry clearly deserves the honor.
His two skits, “The Prototype” and “The Big 5-0,” have a lot in common. In the former, a father and son move from anger to affection in the course of a few minutes. In the latter, a mother and daughter travel the same journey. In such a brief time, his ability to bring the characters alive, establish a narrative arc and affirm a kind of universal parental bond is remarkable.
The two plays are directed by Juli Hendren and Michale L. Counts and performed by Jeannie McClellan, Reid, Grey Blanco and Laurie Thomas.
“The Seven” bill is filled out by four other plays which, though of less distinction, have virtues that make for enjoyable and thoughtful entertainment.
“Death Defying” by Stephen Kaplan of Bogota, N.J., is about two women waiting for auditions for their circus acts. It is directed by Paul Ford and acted by Angela Littleton and Rachel Nelson-Schiller.
“When the Sun Goes Down,” written by Jonathan Cook of North Augusta, S.C., directed by Thomas and preformed by Zoey Reese, Emma Boisselle and Marie Siopy, describes three sisters reunited while waiting for the world to end.
“With Open Eyes,” written by Karen Sabo of Boone, N.C., is about a marriage proposal nearly derailed when the young girl confesses her suspicion that her mother was kidnapped and impregnated by an alien in Roswell, N.M. The cynical waiter, played by Blott, has seen it all time and time again but is so affected by the couple’s obvious love that he concludes, “Maybe they will make it.” It is directed by David Sinkus and stars Stafford Douglas and Emily Berkley, with Blott again in an amusing supporting role.
The remaining skit, “Waiting for to Go” by Paul McCormick of San Francisco, is about a married man who lies to a woman with whom he is having an affair. Ultimately she gets her revenge with the assistance of Facebook. The couple is played by Hakim Bellamy and Caroline Graham and directed by Aaron Worley.
The practiced production staff of the Fusion makes the numerous shifts in sets and props on an open stage without a curtain seem smooth and almost effortless.
The seven new, brief plays, each limited to a 10-page script, were selected by a jury from among submissions from 40 states and eight countries. “Inevitable” won the Andaluz Award Jury Prize. The members of the audience also vote on their own preference.
The show opened to a sell-out house Thursday night June 7 and, in an unusual schedule for Albuquerque, continued consecutive nights through Monday, when it closed.
However, these performances will be followed by “The Second Seven,” consisting of the seven runner-up scripts. That show will be 7 p.m. June 18 at the Cell Theater, 700 1st ST. NW in Downtown Albuquerque, and will be pay-what-you-will. For information go to Fusion.org or call 505-766-9412.