On Monday night (Jan. 26) the Lowndes Shakespeare Center hosted the first — and only — performance of Orlando's annual exhibition of theatrical masochism. Producers Beth Marshall and David Lee once again laid down the gauntlet to the 24 participating artists: write, rehearse and perform an original short play in a 24-hour time span. On Sunday night, each writer was randomly paired with a director and two actors, and given the theme "change" to inspire them. By 7 a.m. the next morning, scripts were handed off to the directors, who had until a 7 p.m. curtain to bring the pages to life. That's not much time to block movement, find props and costumes, and rehearse technical element — not to mention memorize lines. Past editions largely produced plays that were distinguished mostly for the novelty of their nativity, but this year's crop could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any recent showcase of traditionally gestated shorts. Maybe this year's additional restrictions (a forest clearing with three wooden benches was the dictated setting) freed the authors to focus; maybe the returning participants are getting the hang of the format. Whatever the reason, the products of Play-in-a-Day 2009 deserve to develop beyond a single solar cycle.
A Midsummer Nightmare (by Lindsay Cohen, directed by Nathan Gregory): When a batch of bad bud brownies fell a theatrical troupe, an irrationally plucky understudy (Amanda Wansa) talks her imperious director (Nicholas Wuehrmann) into performing the Bard's **Midsummer** as a twisted two-hander. Wansa's eager intensity combusted comedically with Wuehrmann's bone-dry distain, and making Bottom a redneck in a monkey mask was demented genius.
The Winds of … (by Rob Anderson, directed by Andy Felt): A derelict drifter (Isreal Scott) encounters an angry businessman (Joe Swanberg) and performs a parapsychological feng-shui pantomime in order to retune his mood. Unexpected and inexplicable, occasionally awkward and ultimately uplifting, this sweet little gem introduces ideas ripe for elaboration.
Next (by Michael Garvey, directed by Michael Gerber): A violent rape sends ripples through the lives of both the victim (Brittany Berkowitz) and her repentant victimizer (Chris McIntyre). This was most the ambitious piece of the evening but unfortunately the least satisfying; the actors gave their all, but this format is inhospitable to the depth and sensitivity the subject matter requires.
Wild (by Jane Allard, directed by Rob Ward): A loutish lycanthrope (Chantry Banks) shares his hirsute secret with his not-so-Little Red fiancee (Jesse LeNoir), turning a drive-in date into a parade of giggle-worthy revelations. Banks was brilliantly expressive with a vocabulary of grunts and howls, and LeNoir was a stitch in the evening's mandatory drag role.
Count the Waves (by Kathleen Cahill, directed by Brad Roller): Sassy city girl (Trenell Mooring) and destitute divorcee (Doug Ba'aser) play blind-man's-bluff in a blacked-out Maine cabin where they have both hidden to nurse broken hearts. Mooring and Ba'ser make a great odd couple, and Doug in particular found surprising emotion under the silly surface.
Old Friends (by Michael Wanzie, directed by Laura Lippman): On the night of her final performance, a boozy Judy Garland (Jamie Middleton) makes an encore appearance in Oz, where a gimpy Glinda (Jolie Hart) is the lone survivor of little Dorothy's unintentionally unleashed epidemic of disease, revolution and witch-based pollution. Middleton's channeling of the drunken diva was dead-on, and we finally learned what a "general audiences"-approved Wanzie show sounds like (i.e.: only two uses of "shit").firstname.lastname@example.org