Satire rides on a spectrum from mild to wild – to borrow a line from a local rafting company.
Last Friday, the sixth annual 10-minute Play Festival at the Durango Arts Center floated three satires and two light but realistic comedies down an entertaining set of rapids. The free program presented five short plays which survived a complex competition.
From as far away as New Zealand and close as Durango, 107 scripts came in to be winnowed down through a first round of readings. Twenty-two volunteers narrowed the field again – to 66. A third round reduced the number to 18. By chance, the semifinalists sifted down to five, the number needed for staged readings June 3.
“To be fair to everyone,” Theresa Carson, DAC’s theater manager and artistic director, said from the DAC stage, this year’s goal was to keep anonymity until after voting and judging were complete.
The People’s Choice Award almost was a tie. Two satires rose to the top with only a four-vote separation, Carson said. “Lust, Greed, and Murder,” a send-up of British mysteries, by New York writer Matthew Widman, won the $100 prize.
Widman’s satire romped through murder-plot clichés as fast as Miss Marple knits a cardigan. In addition, his dialogue consisted entirely of verbal clichés – “just desserts” swimmingly moving from “hand-to-mouth” and the like.
Rex and Arabella (wonderfully played by Miles Batchelder and Sarah Chosczcyk) have seemingly killed her husband, Trevor (a tweedy charmer as played by Dan Groth). With highly mannered gestures and language, the murderous lovers and not-dead husband turned the script into a hilarious 10-minute farce.
The runner-up for People’s Choice teased out a milder form of satire. “The Job Interview” by Kristin Andrea Hanratty of Grand Rapids, Michigan, took on clichés of. modern romance. Sometime in the future, two applicants for a Mars I voyage want to leave Earth for similar reasons. Kate and Ben, read by a terrifically nuanced pair of actors: Katherine Walker and Ben Mattson, unpack the disappointments that have brought them to apply for permanent exile.
A third satire, “Fork Food,” by Letha Mae Dawson of Roseville, California, spoofed family Thanksgiving rituals. The play eddied out on the mild side of satire with a through line of generational conflict.
Two plays presented snapshots of realistic situations. “Pool Story” by Stephen Cooper of Longboat Key, Florida, contrasted two men played by John Porter and Ted Holteen. A three-part structure spun the light comedy into a tale of generational differences with a charming and unexpected open ending.
Durangoan minister and musician, C.J. Alderton, won the $500 grand prize with “Aengus & D’Arcy On A Bench in Dublin.” The play will receive a fully staged production next fall at DAC Fall Festival.
Affecting Irish accents, local actors John Garza and Gordon Thomas brought to life a conversation between two old friends who meet in a cemetery. A seemingly realistic encounter began with condolences. Then as both shared memories of the deceased, the play surged toward an emotional climax when both actors laughed so hard they had to wipe their eyes.
According to Alderton’s website, www.patrickcrossing.com, he heads up a local ministry and has founded an annual Celtic festival. When he accepted the top prize, he bounded up on the DAC stage. He said he wrote the play as an exercise in his writer’s group. To seal the deal, he took a selfie with Carson as the audience broke into applause .
Don’t miss the Oct. 7-9 festival.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.