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.
Of 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.