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January 18 – 28, 2007
Winter Carnival of New Works
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 2:10 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for an entertaining evening
 of eight new works

Each September for six years, the Madcap Players company have solicited the submission of short plays for production in the annual Winter Carnival of New Works. Anywhere from 120 to 250 works are narrowed down by a panel of six readers to about 30 plays which are then presented to a group of directors who choose which to produce. Comprised almost solely of volunteer work, the productions all share the same stage and the same 2 hour period; small vignettes of life in easy to swallow 10-15 minute slices. Most every part of the set is composed of blocks which shift from restaurant to laundromat to nightclub, all by moving these nondescript blue cubes. The result of all the hard work is a series of really outstanding new plays, a couple of which are good enough that a repeat viewing of the whole show would not be amiss. Presented at the H Street Playhouse for a low price, this is the kind of magic that theater is meant to represent.

Storyline: Eight short plays are presented in one evening: A young girl must grow up too soon, an examination of stereotypical good and evil, a fetish model and an insecure librarian in a comedic moment, a man who can see the future…all of 2 minutes ahead, a couple reflect on where their relationship went wrong, a man must confront himself twice over, a writer’s block with no solution, and the saga of a lost sock.

The range and depth of the performances are truly impressive. The show starts off a little slowly with The Junior Banana-Boat Free-Balloon Special, a tale of a young girl yearning to see her sick mother, a waitress who longs to have someone to love in her life, and a girls' ‘Poppo’ who wants to win big just one time to change their lives. The piece is a good character study, but lacks a driving plot or motivation to truly care about. Luckily the series of performances pick up as the evening continues into a Pollyanna study of good vs. evil and what changes may be made by the unchangeable due to love. A cowboy western with the good guy in white, the bad guy in black, and the damsel in distress, High Noon has subtle chuckles all around, including one serious game of Scrabble. Following is The Lullabies of Farewell, a story of a fetish model and her insecure librarian roommate. The two secretly long for one another but struggle to find the means to let it show. The first act ends with Surprise, one of two comedies in the show by Mark Harvey Levine that deal with time in some manner. In this one we find a young man at a diner where his ability to predict the future, all of two minutes into it, lets him brave the fact that he is about to face yet another breakup.

The second act opens with the second weak piece of the evening, Adonis, another dramatic character study revolving around a couple who look back on their lives to see where the love they were sure would last forever fell apart. Again the characters are well portrayed, but again the plot is a small synopsis that might have been better served in a slightly longer show. The second act continues with the second Levine show, Howard, in which a young physicist visits himself from the future to tell him to correct a mistake, and then is visited again by himself to tell him not to listen to his first visitor. Levine’s has a good pair of sketches in these shows, both are humorous and leave the audience pleased. The following play, Writer’s Block, finds a famous young novelist visiting the man who gave her the inspiration for her first book, hoping to be inspired once more.

The evening ends on a high note with the comedic musical, Lost Sock: Have you seen me? by Shawn Northrip. This show alone has the power to carry the entire evening and encourage return visits. The music and lyrics follow the life of a sock that decides its lot in life is boring and leaves its mate to follow its heart, see the world, and ends up in the all too familiar tale of a rock star that burns bright and then falls. The fact that several of the characters, including the lead, are played by a sock starts the piece with laugher that runs to the end. Madcap has succeeded in producing a night of very entertaining theater -- lets hope these New Works become old favorites and encourage their playwrights to future success.

Written by Joe Byers, Gary Raymond Fry, Jr., Mark Harvey Levine, Adam Szymkowicz, Hilary Trudell. Music and Lyrics by Shawn Northrip. Directed by Merry Alderman, Shanna Beauchamp, Chris Davenport, Akiva Fox, Paul-Douglas Michnewicz, Betsy Rosen, Christopher Snipe. Choreographed by Sarah Levitt. Design: Gary Raymond Fry, Jr. (set) Kelly Mollay (costumes) Brian S. Allard (lights), Matthew Bruce (sound), Issac Liu (photography), Kate Hundley (stage manager). Cast: Fred Ashley, James Ray Biggs, Bill Brannigan, Neil Conway, Ashley DeMain, Miriam Ganz, James Garland, Lea Goodman, Leo Goodman, Erin Kaufman, Vanessa Kinzey, Matt Lopez.Jason McCool, Tiernan Madorna, Lucas Maloney, Samantha Merrick, Katie Molinaro, Annie Mueller, Terry Nicholetti, Meredith Rachlin, Grace Ross, Tyler Smith, Peter Stray, Jjana Valentiner, Alex Zavistovich.

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January 19 - 29, 2006
Winter Carnival of New Works

Reviewed  January 20
Running time 2:15 - one intermission
A collection of short works

For the fifth year in a row, this company has sought out some of the short work of playwrights from the Potomac Region and beyond and assembled a sampling. Just like a compendium of good short stories, this collection finds playwrights tackling ideas too slight to support a full evening’s work, but nevertheless, worth working through. Two years ago the collection was a kick. Last year it was even better, being a Potomac Stages pick for consistently diverting entertainment. This year year's collection is a bit spottier but still has highlights enough to please, and, if one short play doesn't capture your imagination, all you have to do is wait a few minutes and check out the next one.  The most fun of them all is a new musical by Shawn Northrip titled Cautionary Tales for Adults.  

Storyline: A collection of the theatrical equivalent of short stories exploring concepts and subjects that fascinated their authors. Many of them capture the audience's imagination as well.

  • Northrip, whose earlier musical version of Titus Andronicus had a memorable production at the old Source Theatre, places this new short musical, Cautionary Tales for Adults, in a library where a fabulously funny Casie Platt tries to intimidate young patrons by reading them stories like "The Woman Who Took Her Kids To The Zoo And Was Eaten By A Lion."
  • The most intriguing concept explored in the evening is the nature of time, which, in author Patrick Gabridge's hands seems to be completely variable. In Out of Time, time moves at a different rate for one character than for all the others.
  • Steven Schutzman's four character look at the First Day Of School views that momentous occasion through four sets of eyes - Mother, Father, Son and Daughter.
  • The Patient, by Rich Amada, is a kick of a quick sketch in which "specialists" are called in to fix a play that, in their opinion, lacks motivation, suffers from excessive exposition and - horror of horrors - includes a 3 1/2 page monologue which must be excised with the help of an industrial strength staple remover. The five member cast gives a spirited and fun performance.
  • In Dance With Me, Abuelita, Terry Nicholetti performs her own solo-play, a monologue. Dressed in a white terry cloth robe she reveals her own struggles with body image and self confidence, finally shedding the robe which has been a kind of security blanket.
  • Chad Dubeau's play Jetsam is an absurdist piece performed by John Geoffrion in white face but dressed in black and John Horn, dressed all in white.
  • A two-member cast play out a parody of the 1940s black-and-white private-eye movies known as "Film Noir" in Adam Szymkowicz's play Film Noir.
  • Stephen Clapp and Laura Schandelmeier perform their own dance piece titled The Dragons Project: Power Play (End Game). They both move with grace but Clapp has a cat-like atheleticism as well. The dance is performed to a soundscape that, in addition to the music of a piano, includes the sounds of surf and city streets.

Written by Rich Amada, Stephen Clapp and Laura Schandelmeier, Chad Dubeau, Patrick Gabridge, Terry Nicholetti, Shawn Northrip, Steven Schutzman and Adam Szymkowicz. Directed by Alexandra Hodge, Paul-Douglas Michnewicz, Shirley Serotsky Christopher Snipe, Scott Stanley, Paul Takacs and Patrick Torres. Musical direction by Amandia M. Daigneault. Design: Gary Raymond Fry, Jr. (lights) Matthew Bruce (sound) Isaac Liu (photography) Shawn Helm (stage manager). Cast: Denman Anderson, Stephen Clapp, Jessica Drizd, Sarah Fischer, John Geoffrion, Stephanie Hammel, John Horn, Kate Hundley, Niki Jacobsen, Michael Derek Wildstar Kelley, Steve Lee, Julie Ann Myers, Terry Nicholietti, Helen Pafumi, Darren Perry,  Casie Platt, Laura Schandelmeier, Kim Tuvin, Dan VanHoozer, Alex Zavistovich.

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January 13 - 23, 2005
Winter Carnival of New Works

Reviewed January 15
Running Time 2:10 - One Intermission
t Potomac Stages Pick for consistently diverting entertainment

Once again, the Winter Carnival of New Works presents a collection of interesting, entertaining and memorable playlets. Each takes about 10 minutes to develop an intriguing concept, idea or topic. Just like a compendium of good short stories, this new edition of the four year old series finds playwrights tackling ideas too slight to support a full evening’s work, but, nevertheless, well worth working through. This year's compendium is a joint production of Madcap Players and the Theater Alliance (with a bit of help from Quest who provided American Sign Language interpreters.)

Storyline: A collection of the theatrical equivalent of short stories explore such subjects as social strata in a fish bowl, genetic competition, couples who can and who can't communicate, various views of the importance of a kiss, teenage relationships and the role of personal ads in the social relations of people no longer in their teens.

As in previous years, each playlet is intriguing enough to capture your imagination and developed enough to be satisfying but none is stretched out beyond its natural limits. Each ends just when it should, and then you move on to the next delectable morsel. A new feature this year is the inclusion of musicals. Three mini-musicals are rotating in rep along with each night's performance of the seven non-musicals. The performance we attended, thus, did not include the musical "(Breakfast with) Phoebe." Other than that, below is a snippet about each, presented in the hope that they will be enough to whet your appetite.

  • In Patrick Gabridge's Christmas Breaks, smarmy Grady Weatherford gives the mistress he's tired of, the still-smitten Samantha Merrick, a new lover for Christmas - one he found by running a personal ad written as if it was from her. It works well, as she actually is attracted to the respondent, John Horn, and he to her.
  • Andrew Akre and John Francis Bauer are competing sperm vying for a date at a uterine wall with an ovum played with an intriguing constantly floating motion by Niki Jacobsen in Adam Lehman's Fertile Ground.
  • Kathleen Warnock's The Story of Bub finds a marvelous Peter Pereyra loosing his status as "The Big Guy" in a small fish tank when Daniel Mont as the larger title character is added to his world and attracts Linda Gabriel, the only "babe" in the bowl.
  • Joel Angel Babb and Bryn Thorsson are funny indeed as a couple who have lost the ability to communicate in Matt Casarino's Something Went Wrong, but it is Charles Phaneuf who may be most memorable as the dead clown on their living room carpet. He hasn't a line,  he's dead after all, but his presence is the engine on which this disturbingly insightful portrait of communication is based.
  • Josh Lefkowitz delivers his comic solo monologue on his First Kiss as he dons his tuxedo for the 8th Grade Religious Youth Group Dinner Dance.
  • Mark Harvey Levin's The Kiss builds to the logical conclusion from the opening concept of a teenage boy asking a girl who has been a friend of long standing to give him an unbiased assessment of his kissing. Katie Mazzola is particularly good with the discomfort and embarrassment of a girl in this unorthodox situation.
  • The only dramatic entry in this year's collection features the best acting, perhaps because the characters have the most to work with. Tony Simione and Michelle T. Rice really sink their teeth into Barbara Lindsay's Holy Hell, the story of a man who causes a traffic accident in which a woman looses her two children. She lives with the loss. He lives with the secret.
  • The mini-musicals include Damian Hess's off beat comedy of the relationship between the humans and the rats occupying the same apartment, Dinner is Served (music by Gaby Alter), and Shawn Northrip's Lunch, a jaunty take on sexual relations among the students of the "Michael John LaChiusa Middle School" a la 90210. Both feature strong performances by Andrew Honecut, Leo Goodman and Casie Platt but with Lunch you also get Jewel Greenberg's belting vocal style and her infectious laugh.

Written by Matt Casarino, Nathan Christenson and Scott Murphy, Patrick Gabridge, Damien Hess and Gaby Alter, Josh Lefkowitz, Adam Lehman, Mark Harvey Levine, Barbara Lindsay, Shawn Northrip, Kathleen Warnock. Directed by Debbi Arseneaux, Monique Holt, Paul-Douglas Michnewicz, Shirley Serotsky, Jeremy Skidmore, David Snider, Scott Stanley, Dave Swim. Musical Direction by Amandia Daigneault. Design: Kathryn Gage and Andrew Pritchard (set) Jennifer Jones (costumes) Gary Raymond Fry, Jr. (lights) Isaac Liu (sound) Susanna Liu (photography) Kate Hundley (stage manager). Cast: Andrew Akre, Joe Angel Babb, John Francis Bauer, Linda Gabriel, Jewel Greenberg, Leo Goodman, Andrew Honeycutt, John Horn, Niki Jacobsen, Josh Lefkowitz, Katie Mazzola, Samantha Merrick, Daniel Mont, Peter Pereyra, Charles Phaneuf, Casie Platt, Michael Propster, Michelle T. Rice, Tony Simione, Bryn Thorsson, Grady Weatherford.

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January 22 - 31, 2004
Winter Carnival of New Works

Reviewed January 23
Running time 2 hours 35 minutes

Eight different plays by seven different playwrights with eight different directors and casts. What do they have in common? Each takes about 10 minutes to develop an intriguing concept, idea or topic. Just like a compendium of good short stories, this collection finds playwrights tackling ideas too slight to support a full evening’s work but, nevertheless, worth working through. And this compendium is a very good one, for each playlet is intriguing enough to capture your imagination and developed enough to be satisfying but none is stretched out beyond its natural limits. Each ends just when it should, and then you move on to the next delectable morsel.

Storyline: Eight short plays explore cyberspeak, the fear of the unknown, uncommon bonds, the search for the right significant other, phobias and fears not to mention a heretofore unsuspected means of teletransportation linked to orgasm.

  • The Sound of One Hand Typing finds two willing partners in a cybersex encounter descending into the language of emoticons like :-), screenspeak such as "lol: and (dot dot dot) contractions. Kerri Rambow’s direction captures all the humor of Maurice Martin’s script.

  • In Daniel Louie’s A Right Old Horrorshow two children hide from an unknown horror beyond the small square of light they share.

  • In 'Neitzsche' Ate Here, Martha Karl and Jean-Daniel Chablais get to know each other as the former boyfriend and girlfriend of the same lover who has died of AIDS.

  • Paul Donnelly directs Measuring Matthew in which a man with a quantification fetish looses one love because of his habit of calculating every value in a numerical equation only to find another love who shares his quirk.

  • A mini-musical by Curtis Moore and Tom Mizer explores the relationship between three sisters and their brother who is on the Bus to Buenos Aires to attend the funeral of one of them - - but which one?

  • Nora Woolley and Carly Churchey deliver the evening's most memorable ensemble work as residents in neighboring apartments who become obsessed with avoiding making any noises their neighbor might hear in Patrick Gabridge’s Quiet.

  • John Francis Bauer is emotionally magnetic as a gay man raped by homophobes and now in need of the support of his former lover, played by Peter Pereyra, who has resolved to move into the straight world and start a family. LB Hamilton sets the scene at Christmas time in A Midnight Clear.

  • Tim Acito comes up with perhaps the most unorthodox concept of the evening and Scott Stanley uses some of the most satisfying directorial touches for I Call Your Name about a young woman who accidentally discovers that if, in the throes of passion, she calls out the wrong partner’s name she instantly is in the bed and arms of the person she named. She decides to use the phenomenon to explore her past, to some well thought out but unpredictable results.

Written by Tim Acito, Roy C. Berkowitz, Patrick Gabridge, LB Hamilton, Daniel Louie, Maurice Martin, Tom Mizer. Music by Curtis Moore. Directed by Debbi Arseneaux, Paul Donnelly, H. Lee Gable, Paul-Douglas Michnewicz, Kerri Rambow, Shirley Serotsky, Scott Stanely, Patrick Torres. Music direction by Amandia M. Daigneault. Design: Scott Black (set) Isaak Liu (sound) Christopher Snipe (properties) Susanne Liu (photography) Shawn Helm (stage manager). Cast: Sara Barker, John Francis Bauer, Jean-Daniel Chablais, Carly Churchey, Michael Fizdale, Jewel Greenberg, David Guess, Tara Giordano, Rebecca A. Herron, Martha Karl, Jimmy Lee, Peter Pereyra, Jordan Price, Kelley Slagle, Christopher Snipe, Heather Whitpan, Patricia Williams, Mora Woolley.