10-minute plays make long stories shorter

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Terry Swan and Maureen May try to choose the proper pooch from the pound while canine “inmates” Freddie McDaniel and Miles Batchelder discuss their situation during the reading of the 10-minute play “Pound.”

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

When St. Peter greets Lilly at the Pearly Gates, she appears to be a shoe-in. You’d think she’d be happy to have someone smile and say, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

But there’s a condition, and it drives the comedy of Elan Garonzik’s 10-minute play called “Eternity.”

“You will live forever with the visage you have now,” says St. Peter.

On Friday, at the Durango Arts Center, a marvelously cool Freddie McDaniel delivered that line as St. Peter. Portrayed by the versatile Maureen May, Lilly, 88, says she’s not about to go through eternity “with this face!”

For its brief, 10-minute life, Garonzik’s play had everyone in the audience laughing. At the end of the evening, “Eternity” won the popular choice award after splitting a tie with David Brendon Hopes’ marital comedy “Conversation Involving Doppler the Cat.” The Bickerson-style domestic comedy won the grand prize.

“Conversation” rolls out like so many marital arguments. It begins with a tiny scrap of nothing and ends on a big pile of brouhaha. Mercedes (a droll Dinah Swan) inquires if her husband Mitch (an explosive and frustrated Terry Swan) has closed the door after arriving home. The cat, Doppler, might get out. Mercedes, it seems, micromanages everyone – husband and cat.

Like a tight, 10-minute sonata, the play rapidly unspools the major themes of marital discord. A middle section shifts and softens the tone as Mitch expresses remembered affection. But Mercedes won’t have it, and the opening themes return and develop into brilliant coda – another round of picky recrimination and stalwart defense. “Conversation” is a wonderful piece of comic writing, and it got a skillful reading.

In comedy, as in life, timing is everything. The Swans brought a parry-and-punch sense of rhythm to the ups and downs of domestic discord.

The 2012 competition for 10-minute plays drew 130 scripts from all over the U.S. as well as Canada and far away places like Luxembourg and Singapore. Six local playwrights competed. A gaggle of preliminary judges whittled the pack down to 10 semifinalists. Five judges settled on the five plays that received readings Friday night.

This year’s crop seemed sharper than last year. Two happened to be comedies with dogs as the central speakers: “Pound” and “Alfie and Greta.”

“Pound,” by Brooklyn, N.Y. playwright Scott Watson, takes place in an animal shelter. Old Roscoe (McDaniel) gives young Cody (the always winning Miles Batchelder) advice about living, surviving and dying. Two humans arrive (May and Terry Swan) with conflicting thoughts about adoption. Watson wraps things up in a well-crafted ending.

North Carolina playwright Hopes submitted two scripts and both made it to the finals. “Alfie and Greta” is another canine tale but with a sexy twist. Played with expert comic timing by Batchelder and recent Fort Lewis College graduate Mary Quinn, flirtatious banter brimmed with surprises.

The most serious work on the playbill satirized extreme environmentalism. Joni McGary’s “Carbon Credit” looks at the fallout of desperate action on one family. Quinn, Terry Swan and Batchelder delivered strong performances in this essentially dark work.

Coordinated by board president Rochelle Mann and directed jointly by the Swans, the 10-minute play festival may now be a standard part of the Arts Center repertoire.

Both prize-winning plays, “Conversations” and “Eternity,” will receive fully staged productions in September during the DAC Autumn Arts Festival.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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