Bar Plays 3.0
Closing Thursday, Nov. 16
Fortnight Brewing, Cary

If you think ten-minute plays are the kiddie pool or the junior division of theater, think again. It’s hard enough for a playwright, a director, and actors to introduce and develop vivid characters, place them in a novel situation, support them with a robust backstory, and authentically convey the truth of changing lives or cultures in two full acts. Condensing all that activity to fit in a tenth of that time requires ruthless editing, extreme economy of expression, and unwavering focus from directors and actors in each of their six hundred seconds.

Unfortunately, most of the acts weren’t fully up for that challenge Tuesday night in Bar Plays 3.0, Cary Playwrights Forum’s annual, locally sourced environmental theater foray, in which new ten-minute plays set in bars take place in them as well. Even what was clearly the most accomplished work of the evening, Michelle Corbitt’s unconventional relationship play The Donor Agency, still felt more like the opening scene of a larger work than a proper standalone. But it left us wanting more with its brisk, believable dialogue, Noelle Barnard Azarelo’s nuanced direction, and convincing performances from rising actor Michael Parker and veteran Laurel Ullman.

The other six plays displayed various combinations of uneven scripting and acting, framed by the listless song stylings of Alice Osborn. What would have transpired if the rest of the cast in William and Laura Harris’s absurdist Waiting on Mr. Right had been up to Jason Christ’s Marx Brothers-style take on a madcap waiter? Or if playwright Marilynn Barner Anselmi had more fully funded actor Elaine Quagliata’s dour mother-of-the-groom worldview and showed what made it change in the gay wedding drama Finally? And what would we have if Andrea Rassler didn’t squander so much time establishing her trio of gatekeepers in In Heaven There Is No Beer, and focused instead on Marie Curie’s dilemma as she tries to enter paradise?

I hope we ultimately learn the answers, but this evening left us with more question marks than exclamation points.