Brevity, wit make good drama

10-Minute Play Festival scheduled to be staged twice this weekend

Local thespians acted out the works of playwrights from afar at the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Contest. Heather Rasmussen plays Pamela and Ron Khosla is John in “Still Life with Tulips” by Richard Dargan of Albuquerque. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Local thespians acted out the works of playwrights from afar at the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Contest. Heather Rasmussen plays Pamela and Ron Khosla is John in “Still Life with Tulips” by Richard Dargan of Albuquerque.

From the Pearly Gates to a humble kitchen door, the 10-Minute Play festival slides open tonight and Saturday at the Durango Arts Center. Last year, the first Festival proved its worth with five winning plays. If anything, the second annual is better, sharper, and more entertaining.

The 2012 Festival welcomes all new playwrights with a mix of veteran directors and actors plus some new faces. All in all, the 10-Minute Festival is something to celebrate and constitutes one of the most creative endeavors at our local arts center.

If you were in the audience for May’s staged readings, you can expect a reprise of well-crafted work. At Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, it was a surprise to see the same plays with different casts and more polish.

Fully staged with costumes, lighting and introductory music, the plays come to life as they should be seen. Five professional directors have reshaped each work. They are Theresa Carson, Ginny Davis, Jeffrey Deitch, Wendy Ludgewait and Dinah Swan. Local actors Miles Batchelder and Maureen May return in two of the roles they created last spring, with Batchelder holding forth as a new St. Peter in Elan Garonzik’s “Eternity.”

The evening opens with St. Peter welcoming newcomers to Heaven, including May’s bewildered Lily Ann Taylor.

The play won the People’s Choice Award last spring, and for good reason. It’s a funny take on the rules of entry. May’s performance has sharpened, upping the anti on a feisty 88-year-old woman who has reason to live a bit longer.

“Still Life with Tulips,” by Richard Dargan of Albuquerque, takes place in a major art museum where security guard John (Ron Khosla) engages a visitor, Pamela (Heather Rasmussen) in conversation about a striking and beloved still life. Wonderfully staged to create the illusion of a museum, the drama unfolds with one more character (Larry Leonard) who makes a late entrance.

“Alfie and Greta,” by David Brendan Hopes, is one of two works by this playwright. Hopes also wrote the Grand Prize Winner: “Conversation Involving Doppler the Cat.”

To say that Hopes has a quirky sense of humor is an understatement. He’s also a prolific author and professor of literature at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, where he directs the Black Swan Theater.

Winner of numerous awards, Hopes most recently won top prize for short-short fiction judged by Rick Moody for Arizona’s Sonora Review. Check out his credentials at the UNC website. He’ll be flying into Durango for the DAC 10-Minute Play Festival award and will answer questions at an opening reception tonight.

Hopes’ play “Alfie and Greta” takes place in a public park with two dogs in conversation. The dramatic conceit emerges quickly as actors Aaron Stevenson and Mohriah James sport dog collars and leap into the question of being “in heat.” The conversation moves into a humorous exposition of a dog’s view of the world. Director Deitch has his actors squirm, wag and sniff their way through this comic enterprise.

“Pound,” by Scott Watson of Brooklyn, explores a different dog’s eye view of the universe. Directed by Davis, this play has a four-person cast, contrasting two views from captivity: Old Rosco (John Garza) and young, angry Cody (Batchelder). When prospective pet owners arrive (Ric Morson and Lauren Sorteberg), there’s a shift. A serious work at heart, there’s a beautiful arc to the play which belies its brevity.

Closing out the evening is Hopes’ winning comedy, “Conversation Involving Doppler the Cat.”

Director Carson has cast veteran actors Deitch and Lisa Zwisler as an old married couple. Mitch and Mercedes sputter into a dispute over a small bit of nothing. The old formula works, and one joke rolls around and around, taking on new steam the more it’s exploited.

Zwisler’s teeth-gritting irritation burns the edge of frustration. Deitch’s slow burn responds with equanimity and a surprise.

Set in an ordinary room in the present, “Conversation” brings this second annual evening of short works to a fine and familiar finish.

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

Maureen May plays Lily in “Eternity” a play by New York playwright Elan Garonzik, one of five to be staged in the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Festival. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Maureen May plays Lily in “Eternity” a play by New York playwright Elan Garonzik, one of five to be staged in the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Festival.

Local thespians acted out the works of playwrights from afar at the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Contest. Aaron Stevenson and Mohriah James play the title dogs “Alfie and Greta” in the play by David Brendan Hopes of Asheville, N.C. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Local thespians acted out the works of playwrights from afar at the Durango Arts Center’s 10-Minute Play Contest. Aaron Stevenson and Mohriah James play the title dogs “Alfie and Greta” in the play by David Brendan Hopes of Asheville, N.C.