Theater Review: “Gay Shorts, Part 2: We Are Family” — Amusement Galore

Open Theatre Project’s Gay Shorts is bold, out, and unafraid.

Gay Shorts, Part 2: We Are Family, plays written by George Smart, Scott Mullen, Patrick Gabridge and Sam Lasman, Ingrid Oslund, Nick Malakhow, Ken Preuss, and Rhea MacCallum. Directed by Dustin D. Bell, Matthew Feldman-Campbell, Liz Adams, Pascale Florestal, Preston Graveline, and Josh Glenn-Kayden. Produced by the Open Theatre Project at Club Café, Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA, through June 2.

By David Greenham

Boston Pride Week (June 1 through 10) has a welcome new addition this year: Gay Shorts. The Open Theatre Project has assembled an evening of 10 minute plays “by, for, and with LGTBQ artists from all walks of life” and it turns out to be a delightful and charming way — funny as well as touching — to kick off the annual celebration of the gay community in Boston.

A scene featuring (l to r) Karin Trachtenberg, Jack Sinnot, Scot Colford, and Brian Savage in “Let It Lie.” Photo: Matt McKee Photography.

The round-up begins with Gay Shorts’ s founder and Open Theatre member George Smart’s Let It Lie. Married couple Paul (Brian Savage) and Mike (Scot Colford) have come to Christmas dinner at Mike’s sister Allison’s (Karin Trachtenberg) house. But Paul knows a secret: Allison’s husband, Fred (Jack Sinnott), is among the donors to an organization fighting to repeal gay marriage. Also on hand is Aunt Melissa (Mary Flemming): she is suffering from Alzheimer’s but not homophobia. Let It Lie makes for a rousing opener because lines like Fred’s “Why can’t you people go back in the closet and keep quiet” can be sniggered at and dismissed early on. More of a parable than a drama, Smart’s Let It Lie is a testament to the perennial comic chaos of family gatherings.

(l) Hannah Antman and Valera Bamgbala in “Getting Unstuck. Photo: Matt McKee Photography.

Scott Mullen’s Getting Unstuck is a delightful theatrical morsel. The script is set in an airport; café worker Zoe (Hannah Antman) notes that Palmer (Valera Bamgbala) has been mysteriously hanging around the place for several weeks, apparently waiting to get on a plane to Phoenix. But she never leaves. A brusque study of how fantasy conflicts with reality, the play generates chuckles before it reaches its hopeful ending.

Partners Amy (Evelyn Holley) and Zoey (Caryn May) have managed to get on the plane  in Dropping Off (by Patrick Gabridge and Sam Lasman). They’ve ended up on a beach at some oceanside resort. But, as is often the case, vacation means various things to different people. Amy works in the corporate world and is too exhausted to do anything more than settle into a beach chair for a nap. But for Zoe, a barista who is frustrated by a detached Amy, vacation is the time for dreaming and making plans. Sometimes taking time off means confronting uncomfortable realities.

The first act winds up with Ingrid Oslund’s unsettling Red and the Wolf. Red (Sydney Grant) and Wolf (Caroline Keeler) make for an efficient and surprising pair in this refreshing exercise in role reversal. Red and the Wolf is proof that a ten minute play can, when done right, provide the satisfaction of a slow-burning, edge-of-your-seat thriller.

The concept of love at first sight takes a hit in Nick Malakhow’s sweet Second Look, which opens the second half. Robbie (Michael-John Amaral) discovers Jason (Chester Domoracki) sitting alone and smoking a cigarette outside of a gay nightclub. Both are uncomfortable with the establishment’s “meat market” nature, but they’re also on the hunt for someone new. Second Look is a handy reminder that first impressions can be misleading.

Florida-based playwright Ken Preuss has concocted a wordplay-inspired confection, Ava, that explores the idea that you express your subconscious interest in another person if his or her name appears frequently in your vocabulary. Funny how neatly it works out, but sisters Ella (Nicole Ventura), Ana (Grace Trapnell), a waitress named Abby (Melissa de Jesus), and Anna’s old girlfriend Ava (Lisa Nguyen) have names that make the gimmick work pretty darn well. Preuss’s snappy script is set in a restaurant and zips along quickly enough to ensure that you aren’t given a chance think to hard about what is going on. The piece is lighter than air, and it’s over even before the food arrives. But it’s a fun little ride.

The best play of the lot might be Rhea MacCallum’s hilarious mother and daughter exercise, A Little Experimenting. Mother (Evelyn Holley) wants her daughter Chastity (Caroline Keeler) to know that it’s okay with her if she’s turning down boys for dates because she’s a lesbian. The only problem is that Chastity is actually not a lesbian, as least as far as she knows. She’s turning down suitors simply because she hasn’t liked how she has behaved with them in the past and needs a break. But when Mom starts to talk about her own experiences with her neighbor as a young girl, this short play takes a hilarious turn.

Open Theatre Project’s Gay Shorts is bold, out, and unafraid, and Club Café seems to be a perfect venue for the event. Even better is that the production’s directors, cast members, and crew ensure the evening sails along smoothly. One of the traps that afflict an evening of one-acts is that transitions are often clunky and disruptive. Gay Shorts avoids that problem. The plays follow each other with aplomb, and the actors attack each of his or her scenes with vigor. Of course, simple production values help: folding chairs, a bench, a table or two, and some hand props are more than enough to help the proceedings fly by in fine fashion. The lighting is elemental, the costumes contemporary, and the music upbeat.

The acting company is mostly strong, capable of handling the occasional touching moment along with the ample laughs. In Getting Unstuck, Antman’s adorably innocent energy and Bamgbala’s earthy strength make for a fine match in a memorable fantasy ride. Similarly, Michael-John Amaral and Chester Domoracki infuse Second Look with enough heart to carry a fairly predictable story line through to its inevitable end. What is particularly impressive about the two young actors is that they never force the story to move faster than it should. Domoracki, in particular, manages to suggest stillness and motion at the same time.

Ava needs the right momentum so that all of its word play doesn’t roar by the ears of the audience. Director Josh Glenn-Kayden and the actors maintain their control so that the jokes build on each other perfectly.

(l) Evelyn Holley and Caroline Keeler in a scene from “A Little Experimenting.” Photo: Matt McKee Photography.

The delightful and very funny mother/daughter scene in A Little Experimenting is an ideal way to end Gay Shorts. We see two sides of Caroline Keeler during the evening. She’s tense and cautious in the tiny potboiler Red and the Wolf, but in the wrap-up script her comic timing and expressive face invigorates the role of the daughter. 

Open Theatre Project’s Gay Shorts Part 2: We Are Family offers amusement as well as positive messages, an increasingly important combo in America, circa 2018.

David Greenham is an adjunct professor of Drama at the University of Maine at Augusta, and is the Program Director for the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. He spent 14 years leading the Theater at Monmouth, and has been a theater artist and arts administrator in Maine for more than 25 years

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