For better and worse, we've learned what to expect from showcases of brief one-act plays like Open Doors: A Festival of New Works, Sonorous Road Productions' locally sourced variant of 10 by 10 in the Triangle, which returns for its annual stand at The ArtsCenter next month. Ten-minute plays can be dramatic haiku—theatrically complete excursions into other people's worlds. But they can also seem like sketch comedy or scenes snipped from longer works.
We watched 10 by 10 grapple with script curation for years, so it's not entirely surprising to find Open Doors wrestling with the same issue in an uneven first outing. Comic sketches of varying quality make up six of the evening's ten works, with a slightly higher level of achievement concentrated among the four more serious works.
The clear standout is the honest, heartfelt 11:50. In Ian Finley's quietly compelling character drama, we watch two gay couples' relationships change on the same New York rooftop during two New Year's Eves, ten years apart. Under Tanner Lagasca's direction, actors Dustin Alexander Walker and Grayson Giugno touch us with their youthful naiveté, while Thomas Porter and Ted Willis plumb complicated emotional verities as an older, more experienced couple facing a different transition.
Several years ago, choreographer Sarah Skaggs staged Prelude to Salome at the American Dance Festival. Her solo comes to mind during Drusilla is Dead, the oddest offering among the serious plays, with its lucid depiction of disaster foretold. Katy Koop's play is based on Camus's Caligula. If it's hard to imagine such a work being set in a children's nursery, the reasoning soon becomes clear. As the Roman emperor's sadistic sister, Drusilla (Victoria Mitchell), provokes the young Caligula (Alex Hubbell) to picture the scariest scenario he can imagine, something dark unfolds within them both, and the future of Rome trembles.
There are also moments to savor in Gus Allen's To Have and Not Hold, an icy examination of a loveless wedding among the powerful, and in John Paul Middlesworth's unsettling religious drama, The Acolyte.
On the comical side, Allan Maule's Imperfect Strangers, directed by Andy Hayworth, is an awkward duet in which Diana Cameron McQueen's avenging feminist and Zak Casca's sexist businessman show their fangs—just before their commuter train stalls out, leaving them trapped together. And though it took a moment to get off the ground under Lorelei Lemon's direction, Interrogation, Brook North's military and political satire, amused us, applying the screwball logic of Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First?" routine to the endless search for enemies, domestic and foreign, at a Guantanamo-like detention camp.
We also enjoyed Liam Yates's standout performance as an erstwhile deity on the make in North's A Gift From God, as well as stage veterans Page Purgar, Rebecca Bossen, and Chris Milner in a dilemma at a cosmic complaint desk in Bossen's Disaster Division.
Score the night this way: one home run and eight works recommendable in whole or in part. Not bad for Open Doors' first time at bat.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Theatrical Alchemy"