2016 Playwright's One-Act Festival Review - A Potpourri of Choices

Ensemble Studio Theatre of Los Angeles (EST/LA) kicked off its inaugural ONE ACT FESTIVAL with 14 top playwrights and 39 actors. One-act choices are divided into three separate programs, labeled A, B, and C. Each program features various short works that are under 100 minutes. Produced by co-artistic director Roderick Menzies and Lee Costello, the entire festival in Atwater Village runs from Thursdays through Sundays with different programs alternating within each weekend until July 31, 2016.

LIZZY - Cathy Diane Tomlin and Mona Lee Wylde - Photo courtesy of EST/LA

This review covers the five one-act offerings under Program A. The most poignant and stirring was the last play of the evening, LIZZY. Written by Roger Q. Mason and directed by Jonathan Munoz-Proulx, this short piece documents a visit between Mary Todd Lincoln (Mona Lee Wylde), now an impoverished widow, and Elizabeth Keckley (Cathy Diane Tomlin), a former slave who became her skilled seamstress (or modiste) and friend during Mary’s days as First Lady. Things have not gone well for Mary Lincoln, whose grieving mind is slipping as she survives in rags and tatters. On the other hand, Elizabeth Keckley has become a creative star in Washington D.C., with every politician’s wife fighting for her services; Elizabeth also wrote an autobiography which has been well received and profitable. Their momentous meeting will keep the audience engrossed.

TO SERVE BUTTER - Virtic Emil Brown and Denah Angel - Photo courtesy of EST/LA

A very amusing play, TO SERVE BUTTER, preceded LIZZY and also deserves kudos. Carla (Virtic Emil Brown) meets Tracy (Denah Angel) at an audition for a vague, “private” show. When Mel (David Franklin) arrives, they discover that Tracy, a newbie to theater, will play a wealthy Southern Belle, while Carla, a very talented and experienced actress with a resume a foot long, will play her cowed African-American servant with almost no lines. At least Carla does get to churn butter for a party that Tracy is throwing. The imbalance of skills is not going to work – and Carla has a plan to upset the butter cart. Written by Eliana Pipes and directed by Susan Franklin Tanner, this short play had the audience in stitches.

RED AND BLUE - Simone McAlonen and Tarah Pollock - Photo courtesy of EST/LA

Program A opened with RED AND BLUE, a tale of two lesbians, one of whom just happens to be the daughter of the former U.S. President. Red (Simone McAlonen) and Blue (Tarah Pollock) are the principals in this play, written by Wendy Graf and directed by Shaina Rosenthal. RED AND BLUE is followed by TEMPTED, written by Jennifer Maisel and directed by Roderick Menzies. TEMPTED features the solo performance of talented Patty Cornell as Lisa, a frustrated and bored woman who finds herself briefly attracted to the wrong man, a “polar bear” to her “alien.” THE BIG HILL was a solo performance by James Macdonald, who also wrote the piece; his son, young musician and chief bottle-washer Drake MacDonald, accompanied him. Directed by Karen Rizzo, THE BIG HILL attempted to blend childhood enchantment, music, and gliding dance.

TEMPTED - Patty Cornell - Photo courtesy of EST/LA

The first three one act plays in Program A were somewhat slow-moving and only intermittently involving; they sometimes felt like “amateur hour.” Perhaps their main advantage was that they were, thankfully, short. However, the second half of Program A more than made up for the misfires of the first half. There was an intermission between the two halves – so be sure to sit it out until the last two plays.

THE BIG HILL - James Macdonald - Photo courtesy of EST/LA

EST/LA ONE ACT FESTIVAL runs through July 31, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sundays. Programs A, B, and C alternate schedules over the run of the festival. Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located at 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $25 (Brown Paper Tickets), $30 (at the door), and $50 (complete Festival Programs A, B, and C). For information and reservations, call 818-839-1197 or go online at estlosangeles.brownpapertickets.com or Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA.

TO SERVE BUTTER - at the after-party - Virtic Emil Brown, Susan Franklin Tanner (director), Denah Angel, David Franklin, and Eliana Pipes (playwright) - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

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