The 10th installment of the annual Ten-Tucky Festival opened last weekend at The Bard’s Town Theatre. From its beginning, this annual celebration of short plays by area writers has been a highlight of the season and a great forum for the production of new works by emerging and established theatrical voices.
This year’s program builds on that tradition with a lineup of eight plays that bristle with uncommon and unpredictable energy and wit, and of course, the wry, “let’s-put-on-a-show” ingenuity required for fast, minimalist scene changes. Perhaps it’s pent-up energy that built up during the pandemic. Or perhaps it’s the finely curated program curated by producers Rachel Allen and Sabrina Spalding. Or perhaps it’s the superb delivery by an excellent corps of performers. Or perhaps it’s just a conglomeration of unidentifiable factors, but from top to bottom this year’s program is the best I’ve seen. (Note: Audience members are required to wear masks throughout the evening. On Sunday night, when I saw the program, the reserved seating arrangements were well-spaced.)
The program opens with “Queer/Trek,” by Brian Walker (whose history with short plays dates back at least as far as the 2008 founding of “Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun”). In this droll twist on the “coming out” trope. Two Trekkies (played by Lee Stein and Tony Smith) have returned home for a fan event. During their trip, they drop in on one’s parents (Darren McGee and Jennifer Starr). The visit is fraught with tension — until the reveal. Suddenly the tables turn, with wit, raunch, gleeful acting, and plenty of Star Trek references.
Colby Ballowe’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” directed by Meghan Logue Holland is also decorated with plenty of references; Bob Dylan fans will love this one. The play pits Abraham (Joey Eberling) in a debate with God (Lee Stein) over God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac (Ryan Watson). Ballowe’s take is sharp and smart — and the performances are fast-paced and bracing.
“Three Hours to Dawn,” by Templeton Moss, offers a serious moral dilemma that plays out in a jail cell in the old west. There, the town Marshall (Corey Music) is holding an outlaw (Ryan Watson) who is slated to hang in the morning for having inadvertently caused the death of a youngster while in the commission of an unrelated crime. Moss’ script is provocative and insightful, and Watson (who also directed) and Music infuse this gem with the all the devastating emotion and gravitas it deserves.
I first started seeing Zoë Peterson’s work in festivals featuring student playwrights several years ago. Since then, her work has popped up all over, including a superb piece a few years back in the Louisville Fringe. Here she returns with a droll piece called “Date Night,” which features Meghan Logue Holland as an Applebee’s customer who wants to dine in with her date, who happens to be an exotic species. As directed by Corey Music, the ensuing battle between Logue, hostess (Sabrina Spalding), and restaurant manager (Joey Eberling), is a brilliantly far-fetched struggle, yet somehow seems strangely familiar.
“The Annual Tea Party,” by Mollie LaFavers, directed by Sabrina Spalding, plays out like one of those sinister, slightly surreal French films where dark forces lurk under glossy surfaces. This tea party isn’t French, but it’s definitely surreal. Three childhood friends (Meghan Logue Holland, Corey Music, and August Anderson) have maintained a tea party tradition well into adulthood — sterilizing it from any outside, grown-up influences. But when that wall of isolation is breached, trouble breaks out.
“Nerve and Sinew” by Eric Thomas, directed by Patricia Rudd, is a finely wrought short drama that deals with the onset of dementia and the meaning of love and how it works as the mind of a loved one disappears. Thomas’ script is beautifully wrought, and Rudd elicits exquisite performances from Darren McGee, as the Father whose mind is going; Jennifer Starr as his wife who is determined to hold on; and August Anderson, as the pragmatic daughter arguing that perhaps her father needs professional care. It’s a wonderful piece of short theatre.
Martin French’s “Sword Play” is a brilliantly constructed workplace satire that will immediately appeal to anyone who has ever worked in a bureaucracy or had dealings with the stranger aspects of contemporary human resources management. Directed by Darren McGee, “Sword Play” is chock-full of pop culture riffs, and the sword fight between two contending office workers (Corey Music and Ryan Watson) spills over with New Age psychological wit. Just when you think it can’t get better, the HR director (Patricia Rudd) shows up, and then the department managers (Rachel Allen and Tony Smith), and things get even better.
“Lost and Found,” by April Rea, directed by Tony Smith, ends the program on another comic high note – with even more superbly handled pop culture references. When two companions (August Anderson and Lee Stein) get lost in the woods, none other than Cyndi Lauper shows up. Because after all, “If you’re lost, you can look, and you will find me. Time after time.” In any case, Cyndi Lauper is perfectly channeled by Meghan Logue Holland, who is just flat out superb.
Through Saturday, Sept. 25
The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Rd.
$18, 7:30 pm
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