Editor’s Note: Guest reviewers Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, aka Nickels and Dimes, attended Winding Road Theater’s Eight 10s opening performance. Because Eight 10s was a different format than the shows we usually cover, we’re presenting their conversation and takeaways from the festival, lightly edited, for our reader’s education and entertainment in place of a more traditional prose review. Please enjoy their cute nicknames and biting commentary. Yours shrewly, Leigh
Nickels: First of all, surprise! not eight plays. Although we did debate this before the night started because there is a play called, “Intermission” in the middle of the program. The name was misleading but also probably the point.
Dimes: Festival producer Chad Davies introduced the event as “a dream come true” and that this was the first festival of this type in Tucson, mirrored off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival.
N: Out of three hundred plus scripts submitted, eight were selected for this festival. A piece written by Tucsonan Toni Press-Coffman was additionally included, making this a nine play festival.
D: I had a problem with including Press-Coffman’s “bonus” play in the festival. After all, she is a co-founder of Winding Road, and inclusion of her play teetered on making the rest of the festival “competition” null and void. On top of that problem, I don’t like that the “local” in “local theatre” only applies to the actors and directors, not the playwright. Which, as someone who used to take writing more seriously, is annoying and – dare I say? – bullshit.
N: Right. I enjoyed her play, but it did make me wish the rest of the festival was made up of other local playwrights. Perhaps if the contest had been only open to Arizona writers to submit, it wouldn’t have felt too unusual to have her play included. We’ve seen what Tucson writers can produce, and this play festival would’ve been a great opportunity to showcase some of that. I do like these festivals of 10 minute plays, and the idea is really great for theatregoers who enjoy a little mixing it up with their theater experience. So overall, it’s a great concept, but maybe a missed opportunity in what shows they decided to put on.
Overall positives, I thought the transitions from show to show were done really well: swift, not loud and jarring, and they moved right into the next performance. I thought the actors were all really solid and engaging throughout the festival, but in particular in Pretty Ruth, Press-Coffman’s piece. I really liked the women in it.
D: Did you realize that, aside from Press-Coffman, there was only one play written by a woman at the festival?
N: I hadn’t realized that; that’s unfortunate. But there were women involved in some leading capacity in eight of the nine shows, whether they directed or acted in them. And the one play that didn’t feature women had people of color and a gay story line. So, progress?
Moving on to aspects of the festival that we didn’t love… I will say, other 10 minute play festivals I’ve gone to typically had an overall theme linking the works so you had a vague idea of what each of the shows would be about. This one did not, so in almost every play, it took a bit for me to catch up and figure out what was happening.
D: Another surprise! Not all of the plays were 10 minutes! More than half of the plays ran over that ten minute limit— not always to the benefit of the play. And these plays covered heavy topics, often that couldn’t realistically be portrayed in such a short time frame.
N: Eh, true, but I don’t know how real you can get in a 10 minute play.
D: If you can’t get real in a 10 minute play, then what’s the point of doing a 10 minute play?
N: I don’t know! But I didn’t go in expecting groundbreaking stories; I assumed we’d be seeing cute, maybe comedic pieces that were light and fun?
D: You think my expectations were too high I mean, the rest of the audience really seemed to enjoy everything.
N: They may have been, and the audience did love every play. And I thought most of the acting was good, notably Morgan Smith, India Osborn, Steve McKee, and Mara Concordia.
D: So I’m a curmudgeon—
D: But on that note, we should review the actual shows now.
A Long Trip, written by Dan McGeehan (Chicago, IL) and directed by Denise Blum
Dimes: A Long Trip is about an elderly man trying to connect with his elderly wife before she succumbs to dementia. The basic story was predictable and brought nothing new to scenes of Alzheimer’s/dementia that have been seen before.
Nickels: But I thought Peg Peterson, the actor who played the older woman was sweet and believable. As an actor, I really pay attention to the acting first, and then the script.
The Parrots of Heaven, written by Even Guilford-Blake (Stone Mountain, GA) and directed by Eddie Diaz
Dimes: Parrots of Heaven was about a young Persian man who can’t pronounce “Iran” like a Persian.
Nickels: I also noticed that. This script was also somewhat predictable: a pleasant, interracial relationship story. But it was awesome to see more diversity in casting.
Dimes: I don’t like that it feels like a trade-off. You get diverse casting, but in a predictable, trite story? Why can’t we have interesting stories AND diverse actors?
Benchmarks, written by Glenn Altermann (New York, NY) and directed by Linda Andersano
Nickels: I really enjoyed Benchmarks! Actor Maggie Geertsen was in this show and another later on, and I thought her energy was great. Many of these plays contain a lot of metaphors and this was one of them, but it was easy to understand. Again, at this length it was forced to be kind of surface level but I thought the actors played well off of each other and I didn’t feel like this was too long. There were some cheesy lines…
Dimes: Again, I felt like this play didn’t bring anything new to the stage: The wise old stranger who imparts life advice at the unlikeliest of locations? And the advice is that anybody can just leave their literal baggage, or “troubles,” behind? It was a little obvious.
Intermission, written by Joe Bardin (Scottsdale, AZ) and directed by Tyler Gastleum
Dimes: Intermission is about a couple talking about a play during intermission. I was not impressed. A couple in turmoil attends a mediocre play – but the play is a metaphor for their relationship! It’s a play about people talking about a play, but they’re not really talking about a play… That said, there were plenty of inside jokes and references to theatre in general which delighted the audience.
Schrödinger’s Gun, written by Greg Smith (Cleveland Heights, OH) and directed by Samantha Severson
Nickles: I liked this script and thought the actors were great, but the audience really confused me. There were two black police officers training a white officer, right? And they were somewhat putting him through this tough scenario which spoke to police brutality against black people, right? But the audience was laughing so much… I didn’t understand.
Dimes: I actually had problems with the script, and maybe that’s just because the mostly older, mostly white audience was laughing hysterically at what maybe shouldn’t be a laughing matter. I’m not saying that white playwrights can’t write about issues facing the black population in America, but I think that if they do attempt to do this, it has to be done extremely carefully. And also that they probably shouldn’t do it.
And the ending where the white trainee is fired for pulling the trigger of his – spoiler alert – unloaded gun on a black man? I’m not sure if the playwright hasn’t been paying attention, or if this is supposed to be an instance of magical realism (or just wishful thinking), but it’s not realistic, sadly.
Love at the Louvre, written by Diane Sposito (Bronx, NY) and directed by China Young
Dimes: I thought the acting in Love at the Louvre was great. I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about art, classical or otherwise, so all of the art references and allusions were totally lost on me but the audience ate it up. In fact, I didn’t realize the characters were supposed to be Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo until way too far into the scene. How embarrassing for me. The rules of the universe didn’t track completely but it was still enjoyable.
Nickels: This was probably my favorite play of the night. This was more of what I was expecting for the festival. You know right away what is happening, who these characters are (or most of us do), and it was light and funny with some good points. Again, Maggie Geertsen performance stood out the most for me. Also worth noting, this was the first play in the festival that passed the Bechdel test pretty easily. I think that’s also why I liked it. I’d go see this show by itself, it was fun.
Stain, written by Oded Gross (Montclair, NJ) and directed by Chad Davies
Dimes: Stain is a comedy about the KKK. This… was not good. It was like a bad SNL sketch that went on for too long. Oh no, the wife left a red sock in with the whites and now her husband’s Klan robe is pink! Gadzooks! Wackiness! Hijinks! In the universe of this play, white people only have a problem with the KKK when 23 and Me reveals that they have a small percentage of black or Jewish ancestry… Get it? They’re not really white. Hilarious.
Nickels: To be fair to this piece, the acting was appropriate and funny. I can see these actors being really great in other comedic pieces. Their timing was on but it was hard to find the funny for me because of the subject matter. I do think the audience was laughing uproariously at how ridiculous these characters are and not necessarily maybe at the racism humor? I hope? I don’t know. It’s a fine line.
Arguing with Toasters, written by Matthew Weaver (Spokane, WA) and directed by Chloe Loos
Nickels: Arguing with Toasters features an all women cast quite literally arguing with toasters, where the toaster is a metaphor for a man. I liked how the women bond in the end and also it was silly without being outrageous. However, not a Bechdel test passer. Also, made me want toast.
Dimes: I actually thought this play was a disservice to the topic of toxic masculinity and the threat of violence from men that women have to face every day. What was the point of having toasters stand in for men in such serious situations? I didn’t get it. If you’re going to have actors arguing with toasters (or other kitchen appliances), a ridiculous premise, maybe the arguments should be absurd, too? A woman telling a toaster, who is really a man, not to hit her again just isn’t very funny. I think the playwright might think he’s more clever than he actually is.
Dimes: I’m may not be the average theatregoer. I did not love these plays, but the audience did and that means something. I thought the festival was hit or miss… with more of the latter than the former, but I applaud their effort and hope that next year’s festival will improve.
Nickels: Yes, I hope they keep doing this type of festival. I think Tucson audiences enjoy them, they’re great for actors because there’s so many acting and directing opportunities, and it’s a good way to get your fill of a bunch of different types of plays. I would love to see more local writers developing pieces for this festival, though. For all the stumbles, I would still tell people to check it out.
Eight 10s is playing at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art (333 S. Scott Ave.) Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm through May 5th. You can get tickets by calling 401-3626 or online at www.WindingRoadTheater.org.
Nickels and Dimes is a Tucson-based comedy duo comprised of Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, respectively. She studied theatre at the University of Arizona and participated in seminars at The Globe Theatre in London. She has participated in multiple Fringe Festivals and performed in works for TADA, Beowulf Alley Theatre Company, Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, and Sheworxx. He has also participated in a number of Fringe Festivals, is the creator of Slideshow Fairytales, and the cohost of the podcast Stop Hating Yourself. He owns two cats, Zappa and Ariel.