A Gamut of Human Vice; Sex, Drugs, Race, Bigotry, and Murder

Reviewed by Christine Melton

On May 23rd I had the pleasure of attending John Chatterton’s Short Play Lab at the Elektra Theatre on West 43rd Street. This night of short plays covered the gamut of human vice; sex, drugs, race, bigotry, and murder. Producer J Chatterton had the audience vote on which play they liked best. The popular votes coincided with the plays that appeared to have more experienced writers and actors. This night of theater was a low budget affair with high production values; most notably art, sound, and lights by Scott Williams and first class direction by Jade Rojas, Liana S. Afuni, Natasha Lynn Tucker, Christen Omantra Callahan, Teri Foltz, and Clifford Berry … Christine Melton

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First, was Film Sonnet 5: La Passion de la Souffrance by Ericka Mitton.
Clumsy dance starts off what is meant to be the hottest attraction in Paris burlesque shows. The actors line reads were as awkward as their dance with the exception of Ivan Shastak. His French accent was well done except that it switched occasionally to a Russian accent. This actor never faced the audience favoring a left profile which makes one wonder if it was his first acting experience.

An Excerpt from the Book of Adam by John Ladd, was captioned as a “fresh – understanding of what really happened in The Garden of Eden… in Adam’s own words”. It began with a narrator whose lines were drowned out/ obscured by the volume of the music. The new understanding of what happened in the Garden of Eden gives the explanation that a serpent was Eve’s tempter that encouraged her to eat forbidden fruit. Adam calls it a snake and is corrected by Eve who points out that snakes bite but serpents do not. This bit of information was the most interesting of the play along with the blank stare by Liana Afuni whose hook line “It just came to me” explained all her insights about what was to come. Adam on the other hand had information directly from God who told him they should go to Canaan where they would eat bagels, lox, and Gifilte Fish. The new insight suggested that these biblical characters knew back in x year BC that Jewish people were destined to enjoy tasty foods in their future.

When the Mocha Latte Hits the Fan by Arthur French III, was a touching piece that unfolded beautifully as a no nonsense Starbucks employee, Chris Raglin tells a middle aged woman, Ebbe Bessey, that she should leave or purchase a drink. The manager, Darek Black comes to sort out the conflict and mentions that he and the customer had established ground rules. She quips that she chooses to be there to watch the sun rise which inspires her song writing. A whole history unfolds; she lives in a halfway house, is trying to stay off drugs, and gave her baby up to follow her show biz career. The revelation that the Starbucks manager is the son she gave up and now asks to have a relationship with is moving. The manager appears beyond cruel that he won’t offer this struggling mother a complimentary cup of coffee so she can remain there. In tears she explains the hard choice in the past to follow her dream and how she is compelled to be at Starbucks now. The pun implied is that She not only wants to see the sun rise but she wants to see her son rise. A loving gesture by the manager offering his mother bottled water gives hope that a bond has begun to form between the two. Kudos to this tight ensemble and the stand-out poignant performance of Ebbe Bessey.

A Visit from Breitenberg by Charles Durgin,- A father, Paul Morwin, has made an arrangement with his daughter, Shannon Lower, to get her and her children away from her Nazi husband in WW II Austria. The husband, Mathew Carlson, is an army officer and doctor who has a collection of photos documenting the faces of fear. Part of the escape plan was the precaution to empty the husband’s gun. The husband comes home just as his wife and father were about to leave. The father is emphatic that his son-in-law’s Party Values are inhumane but the son’s chilling reply affirms supposed Arian superiority. The officer points his gun attempting to stop the escape but is surprisingly shot by the wife instead who had her own concealed gun. The wounded officer showing his first signs of warmth implores his father-in–law to promise that he will see his children again. This was a stellar cast with a plot that begs to be lengthened.

The Off Chance by Teri Foltz,- A woman, Melissa Keller, comes into a laundry mat and starts a conversation with a man, Chris Payne, who is writing in a little black book. He has been copying his horoscope into a black book for three years. He’s attempting to make his future happen by following his daily horoscope and conducting himself in accord with the horoscope to make each prediction a reality. He explains that he failed to fulfill the actions one day, June 21st, two years ago, a source of great anguish. The woman has come in to avoid the bad habit of holding onto a relationship that has ended. She’s at the laundry and has left her phone at home so she can prevent herself phoning up her ex-boyfriend. The woman’s birthday is June 21st. Two years ago the man’s failed completion of acting out his horoscope led him to the wrong hospital room where he searched for his sick relative. Who did he find instead? Who else, his laundry companion who was having a procedure that very day when a “stranger” mistakenly entered her hospital room. One could say it’s a coincidence but it appears to be fate. This was a sweet love affair beautifully acted and written in the stars.

Really? by Race Brown, directed by Clifford Berry;
The premise is a wife who wants to divorce her husband who shows his objection by an effective off-stage knife attack. While the deed is taking place the victim groans in agony. The husband’s mistress arrives to find her bloodied lover saying he had just killed his wife because she planned to leave him. The outraged mistress says “you should have wanted to kill me because you love me and didn’t want me to leave you, not your wife”. The wounded wife stumbles out saying, “I’m not dead yet”. This joke gets repeated by each subsequent victim and gets funnier each time. Each repetition of attack, reaction, and stumbling “not dead yet” corpse was hilarious. This was a melodrama complete with live and taped sound effects; Blood and attempted murder done hilariously. This adroit direction perfectly timed a bell to ring to signal each actor’s entrance, tension music sounded and the latest attacker snapped their head in sync to a dramatic music crescendo, weapon in hand and face bloodied. Who knew attempted murder could be so funny? This great ensemble featured KL Thomas, Chris D’Amato, Simoné Bart, and Marcus Desion.

The night ended with the audience votes counted and producer John Chatterton informing us that the playwright with the highest votes would receive a monetary reward.

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