Strung together like colorful beads on Marsha Brady’s grooviest necklace, the latest installment of the Quickies series at the Whitefire Theatre delivers one comedic gem after another dedicated to the alternate universe known as The Suburban Park, with a specific focus on the constellation known as The Bench Area.
Out of the largest number of submissions to date, 8 plays were chosen by an anonymous committee to be performed, one after the other, in what amounts to a composite, self-standing work at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. Acclaimed director Moosie Drier, who brought his genius to the preceding two installments of Quickies, shines again by creating an exceptionally well-paced, fluid motion to the sequential performance of each separate work, incorporating subtle elements of style and action from each into the others.
Topics range from burned-out Storybook Princess actresses working a child’s outdoor birthday party (Princess Party, by Ashley Taylor) to overwhelmed techie lovers too involved with Tweeter-withdrawal to enjoy their picnic (The Great Outdoors, by Paul Forte); from a frantic working mom finding wisdom from a homeless, pick-pocketing sage (Home Is Where The Bench Is, by Trudi Roth) to two little boys who form a secret society in order to cope with the influence of archetypically dysfunctional parents (League Of Awesomeness, by Bonnie Hallman). These Quickies are about ten minutes in length and between each one we are treated to highly skilled impromptu songs, performed by Skip Stellrecht, whose improvised lyrics relate to each preceding short.
The simplicity of the staging (Technical Director and Actor, Stephen Taylor), which consists of a park bench and a cherry blossom tree separated by a grassy patch, allows for a greater amplification of the writers’ subtleties as well as a higher relief for the acting performances. The stage is beautifully lighted and transformed into a mid-afternoon suburban faux Utopia; a two-dimensional hologram that makes itself penetrable to the sanctimonious banalities of modern, middle-class day-to-day.
These are well-written, well-acted themes that expose, without apology, the ridiculousness of situational, contemporary conundrums in glimpse-form. There are several traditional two-person shorts that deliver intimate dialogues (you will enjoy the Old Man who cheats the Grim Reaper (Death Is A Bench, by Shane Houston), as well as the two Dads who try to reform each other in the unconscious kingdom of suburban fatherhood (Village Idiots, by Lyn Woodward).
There is one full-cast ensemble piece and it’s very clever; it portrays the quixotic nature of a park-goer’s Facebook page, with each of his cyber-friends either “hidden” or “poked” intermittently (What’s On Your Mind? by David Wally). My favorite character of the evening was from this piece; named “Swiss Chris,” played by Brandon Loeser, (Swiss being the indication that he is always neutral) he is that one member of your friends list who is amazingly skilled at not offering any opinions yet appearing ever-supportive).
Ultimately Quickies T(h)ree is about characters; a barrel-o-monkeys funhouse of often hilariously exaggerated archetypes. Not a bad apple in the bunch, you will find yourself laughing out loud throughout the performance. There is also the unmistakable feel of homegrown sincerity here; despite highly professional direction, staging and acting there is a wink toward the do-it-yourself feel of small theatre.
My first rave goes to actor Nicholas J. Harden for his standout performance as the unwitting victim of an ultra-feminist questionnaire-wielding college student (played by Elaine Small in Gender Studies, by Ron Klier). My second is for playwright Trudi Roth, whose dialogue, in Home Is Where The Bench Is, takes us far deeper into ideas concerning core issues of our modern condition (gender stereotyping, over-medicating, career obsession, etc.) without missing a stitch of the delightful, acerbic humor that makes Quickies so fabulous.
As a concert artist myself I often have to plan programs with the hope of entertaining my audience throughout the entirety of a show. What struck me most about Quickies T(h)ree was just that: each successive piece, although completely different in character from the preceding, was fully engaging, just as funny and yet relatable to the whole.
Well done. It’s not Shakespearian Farce (in the Park) …
but who’s counting.
Opens June 25th and runs through August 27th (Fridays only!!)
****No July 2nd Show****
Tickets are $20 ($15 for groups of 6 or more)
Payable by Cash or Check ONLY on the night of the show
RESERVATIONS: 818.62. QUICK (818.627.8425) or [email protected]
(please leave name, phone number, performance date, and number of tickets)
Showtime is 8:00 pm
13500 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Wayne Bethanis hosts his own TV show, The Wayne Bethanis Show. He is a well-known concert pianist and entertainer and holds a Ph.D in Musicology.