As you might expect from any endeavor of this sort TeCo’s 13th Annual New Play Competition is variable, some pieces are stronger than others, some better realized. That being said, I was truly impressed by the overall strength of the show as a whole. Each short play was distinct, surprising, intelligent and engaging. It was a thoughtful combination of pieces, the comedies had their serious points to make, while the dramas tackled serious issues with authenticity and grace.
7-10 Split, written and directed by Ruth Cantrell, is a memory play by Lois Lanes, an MTF transgender who learned self-respect bowling with her Grandma, back when she was a teenage boy. Most of the dramatic friction comes from Grandma and the boy’s Father : Dale, locking horns over how the young man should be raised. Apparently the boy isn’t butch enough for Dad, and Grandma is sharp enough to understand that these issues are complicated. If anyone suggested you could create such a memorable, somber (yet encouraging) drama using bowling as a central metaphor, you might be leery. But Cantrell does so, with vibrance, resonance and aplomb.
Can I Call You Daddy? Written by Sam Green Jr. and Directed by George Donaldson III, is a devastating play addressing the plague of domestic violence. Vivian and Junior are grown adults who carry the scars and toxins of a tumultuous childhood. Brother and sister bore witness to and first hand knowledge of their Father’s abuse, towards them and their mother. When the play opens, the mother, (Hazel) is engaged to get married to Buddy. Hazel and Buddy beg Vivian to explain the news to Junior. Memories of the past have made Junior so emotionally unstable, Vivian is the only one who can handle him. Green takes what can only be described as an excruciating, painful topic, and manages to explore it without being manipulative or melodramatic. It is fierce, heartbreaking and electrifying.
Nappily Ever After: written and directed by Buster Spiller, is a comedy involving (what amounts to) a blind date between Alfreda Brooks and Ivan Wade, both degreed, cosmopolitan, philosophically evolved individuals, with much in common. The only problem is, Alfreda’s not interested in dating or white men. Alfreda’s mother, Birdie, has invited Ivan to dinner, but Alfreda and her father, Roy are more than a little skeptical. Spiller reveals his gift here for composing plays with layers and numerous effective devices. Roy is a devotee of President Obama (himself the offspring of a mixed-marriage) and Ivan has just enough street cred and viability with taboo colloquialism to impress Alfreda. She doesn’t fall head over heels, but she’s charmed in spite of herself. Spiller entertains us without stooping to cloying or pandering.
Perchance to Dream by Paul Engle, directed by Renee Micha’el is a political satire with a keen ideological subtext, depicting a government that is more concerned with political correctness than ethical valor. Robert Carter is Press Secretary (near as I can tell) to President Ophelia Fitzgerald. The appropriateness of executing a murderer with the mind of a 10-year-old has been called into question, and in a burst of uncontrolled frustration and disgust, Robert speaks his unfiltered mind to the press. What begins humorously resolves itself in a debate on the practical path to change, between Robert and Madame President. Perchance to Dream was clever, reflective and incisive, though the actors could have used some miking.
Hikers : written and directed by Victor Bravo, inhabits the realm of the subtly surreal, when two guys who share the same name, cross paths while hiking in the mountains. One is far more experienced and technologically, better equipped, but they are clearly kindred spirits. Remisnicent, somewhat, of The Twilight Zone without elements of the supernatural or cautionary, Hikers is a pleasant, enigmatic puzzle with a competent balance of the intriguing and fanciful.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat or The Dating Game, by Antay Bilgutay, directed by David Kelting, is a spoof with a fairly simple premise. And it’s brilliant. Inspired by the trendy phenomenon of Speed Dating, Drew keeps finding guys who initially show promise, until he discovers how loopy they are underneath. As he spends time with each one, he’s compelled to revise his personal ad, each time stripping away another level of pretense. Bilgutay could have gone simply for laughs, but this perfectly timed comedy, moves so quickly and intuitively, the “message” is inevitable and spot on. Bilgutay knows all the current LGBT cultural refrences, and his skillful dialogue is like a comedy scalpel.
TeCo Theatrical Productions presents their 13th Annual New Play Competition, playing through Sunday March 1st, 2015. Bishop Arts Theatre Center, 215 South Tyler Street, Dallas, TX 75208 214-948-0716. www.tecotheater.org