10 by 10 in the Triangle

The ArtsCenter
Through July 17

There are about four decent plays in all of 10 by 10 in the Triangle, the 10th edition of the 10-minute play festival the ArtsCenter in Carrboro has produced each summer over the last decade.

So why am I really recommending that you catch this production, which closes this weekend?

Award-winning director and playwright Jon Jory has not only championed the form of the 10-minute play while he was artistic director at Actors Theatre of Louisville, he established the Heideman Award, the nation’s pre-eminent 10-minute playwriting competition, in 1989, as a part of that theater’s prestigious Humana Festival.

Jory has written that 10-minute plays tend to “illuminate moments of profound change and realization,” plumbing the very center of relationships, issues and characters. Calling them “the haiku of the theatre,” Jory has noted they “can tell a story that 40 minutes or two hours would have ruined, and we’ve all gotten stuck with that guy at a party.”

Thus, we would have to recognize Trace Crawford’s The Sum of Your Experience, Tom Swift’s The Beginning, Guadalupe Flores’ The Coyote Strategem and John Paul Middlesworth’s Exit Right as plays that suddenly immerse us in their characters’ worlds, situations and crises. We’re then taken on a journey that feels complete as it follows those characters through transformative changes.

But why does a .400 average deserve critical accolades? Because another four scripts in this mix of 10 one-acts fully measure up as superior sketch comedywhich, come to think of it, isn’t the easiest of theatrical goals to achieve. If Ian Finley’s Suspense (which Bare Theatre produced in February of this year), Justin Warner’s Ghost Lite, Tom Deiker’s Dating 101 and Eddie Zipperer’s Weight of the World seemed less interested in exploring new dramatic territory than simply making us laugh, the ongoing vocalized glee in the near-capacity audience on opening night indicated their triumph at doing just that.

Indeed, the contribution to the evening’s success by this other gang of four begs the question: Is anyone in the region regularly producing scripted sketch comedy? Judging by the audience’s response, there appears to be a greater appetite for it than a single show per year like 10 by 10 could hope to satisfy.

Under Sylvia Mallory’s direction, actors Chris Chiron and Brook North made The Sum of Your Experience, a mean-streets shakedown for something other than a character’s money, a taut thrill ride, even if its velocity at points challenged our ability to understand the dialogue.

The Beginning and The Coyote Strategem made an interesting pair of theatrical bookends. One concerns the beginning of a relationship, the other an end. Both depict same-sex couples and benefit from discerning scripting and direction, and robust acting.

In The Coyote Strategem, director Leslie Cloninger helped actors Kelsey Didion and Page Purgar define opposing polesand still find generous, humane laughterin their characters’ breakup. As directed by Meredith Sause, J. Alphonse Nicholson and Matt Garner’s believable and funny characters in The Beginning navigated the treacherous currents of their first after-sex conversationthe one in which they learn, fairly quickly, if they have (or even want) any future together.

In the loopy comedy Exit Right, Chiron and Didion explore exactly how many ways two bumbling acolytes can screw up the last words of Garner’s character, their religious leader who is at death’s door. Director Caroline McDaniel’s penchant for physical humor, the slow-burn and other comic techniques nicely fleshes out Middlesworth’s rewarding script.

With this strong a crop from one year of this playwriting competition, I’m particularly interested in seeing ArtsCenter’s companion production, The Best of 10 by 10, presenting its top 10 10-minute plays from the past decade, when it opens July 22.