The 6 one-acts I attended at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres were lively and inventive, though some felt more solid than others. Presumably due to our current governmental debacle three of these (Finding the Sun, The Great Dictator, Tommy Cain, Trace of Arc, The Caveman Play and Fiddler’s Cave) were obviously political allegories, presumably aimed at # 45. The Great Dictator (adapted from Charlie Chaplin’s popular film) showed Der Furhrer groping for women’s genitals, The Caveman Play supplied the asinine, egotistical leader of the tribe with Trumpish dialogue and logic, and Trace of Arc featured an interloping audience member begging two shopgirls to wake up to the necessity of activism in troubled times. If I were to surmise a structural thread, all the pieces I saw seemed to begin humorously, gradually turning a 180 towards the grim and/or despairing.
Adapted by Jaymes Gregory, The Great Dictator gathers most of its spark from our turbulent political climate and the intriguing success of Chaplain’s comic masterpiece as stage event. Steph Garrett is impressive in the dual role as a Jewish Barber and ridiculous despot who are apparently dopplelgangers. Though eminently pleasurable, it might or might not hold up solely on its own merits. The Caveman Play works a lot of traditional gags into a non-traditional context. Who knew that cavemen, thousands of years ago, struggled with temperamental, neurotic spouses, just like we do today? Who would have guessed the hoi polloi of prehistoric times were so gullible? The romantic twist between Ugh and Gorga was sweet and the dig at our “Commander-in-Chief” was most satisfying. Trace of Arc showed some promise as Jackie and Tracy, two young women clerking for a small British store in America, examine the underpinnings of monopolized industry. A character identified as CONSCIENCE in the program subversively ignores the 4th Wall, disambiguating the pretend paradise of subservience from the reality of civil disobedience. Though we might agree with the ideology, the self-righteous interloper who abandons Tracy after converting her, might make this piece hard to swallow.
Fiddler’s Cave was a delightful (mostly comedic) pantomime story, with enchanting illusion, and inspired, clownish antics. Dustin Curry is sublime as the guy who awakens in a cave, and must get his bearings. Curry created this wordless narrative that includes a haunting (if a bit hazy) romance between himself and a waifish lass with a simple chapeau. Susan Sargeant directed Finding the Sun, a short play by Edward Albee with a large cast. Albee’s crisp, droll, ironic humor is intact, as we follow (quite effectively) the impact and reverberations of Benjamin and Daniel, two lovers who go on to marry Abigail and Cordelia, who or less beard for them. Though Albee sometimes takes much longer to make his point, the brevity, gravity and efficacy of Finding the Sun was powerful and touching. Written by Van Quattro and performed by Zachary Leyva, Tommy Cain is an extended monologue by a young man who is waiting to be released from Juvenile Detention, on his last day there. Quattro has set this story in the 60’s, and it’s a poetic blend of warmth, anger, despondency and guilt. Where Zachary Leyva, at his age, has found the chops to bring this level of authenticity to such a wrenching, disturbing, profoundly moving performance, I cannot imagine. Leyva’s delivery is stunning and inconsolably sad.
The Festival of Independent Theatres plays July 13th through August 5th, 2017, at The Bath House Cultural Center. 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. (800) 617-6904. www.festivalofindependenttheatres.org