Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saved Money, Wasted Time

I’ve always heard, “You get what you pay for.” So I suppose if you don’t pay anything, you shouldn’t expect much. Not “much” was exactly what audiences got from their free admission to the Third Annual Kalamazoo New Play Festival.

The festival premiered Friday January 25th at the Epic Center located in the Kalamazoo Mall with two one-act plays: “Cherries n’Cream” by Jason Lenz and “Poet’s Departure” by Darrell Kellogg. The two plays could not have been more different in tone or theatricality yet both possessed the talent to make me squirm in my seat for forty-five minutes.

“Cherries n’ Cream,” a one-act aiming for Beckett-esque absurdity (and woefully missing), dropped the audience into the apartment of two neurotic roommates: Dan, a former psychologist with a Creamsicle obsession, and Ben, who kidnaps and carves up ladies purses.The staging of “Cherries” felt clumsy and perpetually confined to stage left with the exception of confusing time jumps stage right.

Theatre Kalamazoo New Play FestivalOf course, each of the men has an appropriately traumatic experience in their past motivating their behaviors but their neuroses are so tiresome that the audience feels as if they have gone mad for choosing to devote their Friday night to this.

After a brief intermission, the lights went up on “Poet’s Departure” which follows a sixty-something lothario referred to only as “Poet.” The event in this “The Day Something Happened Play” is his imminent death. This plot point is revealed too early, a mistake of the playwright who thus forfeits any sense of suspense or forward.

The play was filled with so many clichés, stock characters, and cheesy one-liners I was hoping someone would put me out of my misery before Poet had a chance to be put out of his.

If there was a saving grace in either performance, it was the commitment of the actors trying to make the most out of what they were given. In an effort to encourage the playwrights to make revisions up to the last minute for, the actors performed on-script. Knowing approximately how many pages were left in each play felt akin to watching minutes tick by, slowly and painfully.

While showcasing local writers and artists is important, the material they produce must be notable for its content and not just its place of origin and as my sacrificial Friday night proved, everything comes at a cost even when the price of admission is free.        


  1. I think you make many valid, thought-out points. Your style is blunt, humorous, and engaging, and your analysis of the plays sounds knowledgeable. I also, however, think you need to consider the way New Play Fest is set up.

    It is professional theatres joining with local, yes, but for the most part unprofessional writers. Many of the playwrights had never been published and this was a way for them to improve their writing and explore what it's like to see your play come to life. The actors hold scripts because the playwrights are encouraged to change their plays, as you pointed out. But they are encouraged to change the plays because the experience is a learning process. It is a way for their plays to evolve and their technique to develop. There is a "talk-back" at the end where the audience has the opportunity to talk to the playwrights about what worked and didn't work in the plays.

    Just as you would review "Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure" differently from a Broadway performance, the New Play Fest shows should also be reviewed differently. It is not only a show, but is also an experiment. It is an experiment where many people who do not know each other come together and volunteer their time to put up a show with not two, but five one-acts and five 10-minute plays in only three weeks. It is an experiment where you combine professionals with students with anyone in between and see what you can create together.

  2. So catty BWorth! But in a funny way. You definitely panned this, but I was amused. I don't know much about the playwriting festival, so I can't comment on its aims, etc. But it does sound like it was maybe an event that didn't need an audience.

    I like that you mention the writers reading on script while also using it as a chance to talk about watching the play tick by. It was a seamless way to drop in the detail without making it seem like you were doing an informational departure from the review.

    Definitely snappy writing. I sped through the writing in a good way. It might have been nice to do one or two sentences about what the festival was in general, just for readers who aren't aware of how many days it lasts or what the format is/who the writers are.