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The Arts
January 24-31, 2007

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Point well taken: Denny Vierra, Steven Macramalla and MarNae Cullum in 'Call Me Comrade'

Short and Bittersweet

Actors' Theatre goes nationwide with 'Eight Tens at Eight'

By Joyce D. Mann

The "play's the thing" in the 12th season of "Eight Tens at Eight" at Actors' Theatre. This is the first year that the 10-minute play contest has drawn from a national pool of writers, and the results are impressive. Artistic director Wilma Marcus Chandler's careful sequencing of the program brings a dramatic unity to an evening in which moments of hilarity are followed by somber and thought-provoking incidents, all of it climaxing in a burst of original comedy.

New Jersey playwright Joan Kubicek presents a unique view of live theater in The 37th. Mediocre actor Gregory Wurther (Jeff Swan) will do literally anything to get a part in a play. He encounters director Dean Holloway (Steven Macramalla), whose scheme to bring back audiences to live theater is both chilling and lucrative. Wurther signs up for the role of Oedipus in the ultimate reality show. Swan and Macramalla bring credence to the macabre plot. Anita Natale directs.

In Karen Schiff's play Recoil, Mattress salesman Rich (Richard Gaughan) will do anything to make a sale, but out of sympathy for aging, seductive widow Miriam (Ali Eppy), he puts kindness ahead of profit. Eppy and Gaughan work hard, but the dialogue is slow and lacks momentum.

La' Chris Jordan's Piney Ridge is the most thought-provoking play of the evening and one that fills the audience with a grim sense of apprehension. Junior (Melaku Assegued), the son of an African-American family living in Virginia in 1920, has been accused of raping a white girl. Seemingly on the run, he returns home to a poignant encounter with his sister Sarah (Briana N. Michaud). Gail Borkowski is touching as the grieving mother Bessie. J.J. Porter is mature neighbor Sam, who promises a security clearly outside his capabilities. There is no safe haven. This play is well paced and beautifully performed under the low-key direction of Ralph Peduto.

In Dan Tarker's The White Robe, Dylan (John Burke) and his fiancee Samantha (Jessica Alder) are on the brink of marriage. Or are they? Dylan is haunted by a dark secret from the past, which bodes ill for Samantha's plans. The play is promising, but the dialog needs tightening up. Andrew Stewart directs. Tarker lives in Salinas.

Move, a Domestic Interlude is the work of Santa Cruzan Wilma Marcus Chandler. What happens when wife Tempest Collier (April Green) takes a week off and stays home alone, while husband Irv (Ben Jammin) goes off to work? She moves the furniture around for seven days. Chandler plays strictly for comedy and doesn't attempt to look at the psychological backdrop of such behavior. Green is entertaining as the hyperactive wife, while the talented Jammin is underused as Irv. Blackouts used to mark the passage of time are distracting. Josh Karter directs.

Neil Teague's A Rose for Minelli deals with illusion vs. reality as seen through the eyes of alcoholic down-and-out Minelli (Richard Saldavia). His encounters with the mysterious Doctor Nutterman (Jeff Swan) might just save his life. Police officer Dugan (Richard Gaughan) provides exposition and an anchor to reality. There's good acting in all roles, under the direction of Brian Spencer.

If Eric Eberwein's You Will Not has a point, I missed it. The Huntington Beach playwright is no stranger to Actors' Theatre. However, this rambling and loosely knit piece is less than satisfying. Actors Patrick Drake and Amanda James try hard to make something out of very little. Suzanne Schrag directs.

Call Me Comrade may be the most entertaining and well-structured play of the evening. Silicon Valley playwright Ross Peter Nelson envisions a clash of cultures, where the animated corpse of revolutionary leader Lenin is offered to the highest corporate bidder and ultimately listed on eBay. The dialogue is crisp and the action moves along under the direction of Al Muller.

Robert Forrest's set design is rudimentary. In addition, elaborate stage dressing slows down set changes between plays. This theater, which has limited onstage and backstage facilities, presents logistical problems, especially when 22 actors are competing for space with the furniture. Creative minimalism may be the answer. However, a confluence of talent still manages to win out over technical problems, providing a very entertaining evening of theater.

'Eight Tens at Eight' runs through Feb. 11 at Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. Call 831.425.PLAY for more information. Tickets are available at Civic Center Box Office: 831.420.5260.

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