Fresh Ink Theatre is to be applauded for taking risks, for daring to mix it all up, for giving audiences a taste of what theater, shelter-skelter version, can be.
Mad Dash – A Theatrical Endeavor in 24-hours, written and staged by Fresh Ink Theatre Company. Presented at the Lyric Stage of Boston, 140 Clarendon St., Boston, MA, July 8, closed.
By Robert Israel
Leave it to a gathering of overly caffeinated Boston-area thespians, directors, and playwrights to shatter the summer doldrums. Huzzahs for an example of we so rarely get in theater today — the kind of creative spirit that damns the torpedoes, banishes branding, and forges ahead with brio.
This is the fifth year that the Fresh Ink folks have gleefully co-conspired to create eight new plays in just 24-hours. (This time around as part of a spanking new partnership with the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, which has designated Fresh Ink Theatre as the Lyric Stage’s “Official New Play Partner.”) The result: snippets of theater born of anarchy, some of the improvisational skits offering glints of brilliance, others arriving on stage still born, though they don’t go down without a fight.
The Mad Dash assembly line process happened this way:
On a Friday night, 16 playwrights were given prompts and told to create an original piece – running time around 10 minutes. Throughout the night they are supplied with a few additional details. The bottom line requirement: when Saturday morning dawned they would have pages in hand to give to 8 directors who — picking their casts from among 20 actors — would begin rehearsing. By 8 p.m., the audience filed into the seats at the Lyric Stage and the curtain rose.
The audience members and performers share a refreshing sense of discovery. Who knows what awaits them? Most of the audiences I’ve sat among this year were a depressingly predictable crew: filling the air with half-digested burps, chatter about the price of bananas at Whole Foods, checking their iPads for e-mails and/or text messages until the moment the show began. The viewers of Mad Dash were as spirited as the performers/pieces they were about to witness. There was plenty of insanity to go around.
Among my favorite pieces:
Sorry Ass Block Party by Cynthia Arsenault and Jeni Mahoney, directed by Justin J. Sacramone: three quarrelsome females argue about potato salad and word usage between upchucks into a bucket.
Keep or Toss by Stephanie K. Brownell and Josh Segal, directed by Josh Glenn-Kayden: Two siblings explore their pasts while sorting through sundry items left behind in their childhood home.
Talking to Toys by Dylan Charles and Fabiola Decius, directed by Steven Bogart: A brother and sister argue about childhood memories (again sorting through boxes in an attic) until a doll suddenly springs to life, forcing them to reconcile.
Catfight by Walt McGough and Laura Neill, directed by Darren Evans: Distraught cat owner searches for her missing Fluffy Mittens, only to encounter two feral cats who vie for her affections. The two cats – Crithian Mancinas and Jaymes Sanchez – were hilarious in their roles.
It did not escape me that the timing for Mad Dash – mounted during one of Boston’s most-deserted weeks, July Fourth – is in itself an ironic celebration of independence. It protests the constraints of creating and producing new works for the stage — the economics, logistics, donor prejudices, and marketing plans — by simply ignoring them. Mad Dash epitomizes the can-do spirit playwright Paula Vogel, who that same night accepted an award at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, champions when she calls for those of us with deep pockets to cough up support for playwriting in a world where such funding is paltry at best.
From my perspective, sitting ringside amidst all this mayhem, I welcomed the sense of excitement, a return to the days before PR packaging, when theater could bring up the unexpected: we were to be entertained but also stirred, somehow, by what was revealed onstage.
Fresh Ink Theatre is to be applauded for taking risks, for daring to mix it all up, for giving audiences a taste of what theater, shelter-skelter version, can be. Yes, the mad brew served up is not as heady, polished, or smooth as the oh-so-sleek stuff one sees at the other houses throughout the year. And it is all the better for it — Fresh Ink’s run for glory is cheeky, rough, and filled with tumble -– and we need more crazy dashes like it.
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.