If You Make It Through a Misfiring First Half, a Rewarding Home Stretch Awaits in Revived Short-Play Festival NC 10 by 10 | Theater | Indy Week
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If You Make It Through a Misfiring First Half, a Rewarding Home Stretch Awaits in Revived Short-Play Festival NC 10 by 10 

click to enlarge Rocking the Boat in NC 10 by 10

photo by J.P. Middlesworth

Rocking the Boat in NC 10 by 10

It’s understandable if the theater community thought twice before reviving 10 by 10, an annual festival of ten-minute plays, when it went dark in 2016 after a fifteen-year run at The ArtsCenter. As we reported at the time, founder Lynden Harris and longtime curator Jeri Lynn Schulke encountered a logistical challenge of the first order in managing script selection from hundreds of yearly submissions, not to mention casting and coordinating rehearsal schedules for ten directors leading ten actors through ten different shows at the same time.

Three producers and two community theater groups—OdysseyStage and Cary Playwrights Forum—have reduced those labors into something more manageable for the present revival, now branded NC 10 by 10, which opened at The ArtsCenter last weekend and moves to The Cary Theater this weekend. Casting twenty-two actors in ten productions clearly made rehearsal conflicts less of a nightmare, and limiting the showcase to North Carolina playwrights stemmed the flood of manuscripts.

Theatrically speaking, 10 By 10 has always been a mixed bag, and that dubious tradition continues under new management, with five of the ten productions rating above average in various combinations of scripting and performances. Those five, however, are backloaded behind misfiring opening sections with problematic material or direction. The walkouts at intermission missed most of the evening’s strongest work.

Ol’ Jack Spooks the Devil was the most rewarding play among the first five. Under Fred Corlett’s direction, mischievous storyteller Kurt Benrud anchored Ed Southern’s witty update to one of the timeless "Jack Tales" of Appalachia, as an authentic Jack (Robby Merritt) hoodwinks a savvy landowner (Wayne Burtoff) and the Prince of Darkness (a young Bruce Rosenbloom).

The evening’s strongest production opened the second half: Mark Cornell’s Theater More Like Baseball. What at first seemed like merely a bracing comic diatribe against the theater (by convincing actor Evit Emerson) shifted into darker territory when supporting actor Abby Overton drew out the real reasons for his distress. Unfortunately, director Jane Underhill didn't achieve similar results with mugging supporting actor Drew Gulino.

Wim Coleman’s unexpectedly thoughtful werewolf drama, When the Wolfbane Blooms, connected the fate of Hecuba to actor Christine Rogers’s character, a philosophy professor about to undergo her first supernatural transformation. Under Thom Haynes's direction, actor Joey DeSena demonstrated improvement as an abashed student who has little time to teach his teacher before a memorably chilly close.

Mia Peters and a deadpan Michael Parker found laughs in Eric Weil’s amusing ATM-gone-AI tale, Please Stay, and veteran actor Lisa Levin and Kelly McDaniel negotiated the North/South cultural barriers between two disadvantaged women in Rocking the Boat. In another unbroken tradition, 10 by 10 continues to bring notable new talent into our midst. Along with those mentioned above, glimpses of newcomers Kelly Durfey, Michelle Kaiser, Chesseley Robinson, and Catherine Shocket made me want to see more of their work. Mission accomplished.

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