Quickies, a series of short plays produced by Live Girls! is best seen without expectations. I went to Monday’s Pay-What-You-Can night, and though the crowd was modest in size, the company delivered energized and beaming performances. The plays were a mixed bag, both in tone and quality, but the evening overall was a joy. The set-up was delightfully college-kitschy: company-as-stagehands in matching Live Girls! t-shirts and so-on-the-nose transition music ruled the night between a wide range of plays that all tied to the theme of “science and magic.”
The night opened with a strained little scene introducing the theme (again, science v. magic) between three ensemble members in their matching t-shirts. It felt unintentionally awkward and unpolished, and, I’ll be honest, set my expectations low for the night ahead. It was a pleasant surprise to see the fully-fledged costumes in the first piece,Cubicles and Cancer: an RPG. Playwright Chloe Mason introduces us to four fantasy characters playing a tabletop RPG based on the present-day America. It’s a clever concept that Mason wrings dry, hitting on race-class-gender, social media, socioeconomic inequality and how charisma is more important than strength, but nothing is more important than luck. Too much of this short play is spent on building a world we can all piece together from Tolkien, Game of Throne, D&D, and so forth ourselves and not enough time with the specific conflicts of the characters of themselves. In the final third or so, the story picks up, and the play becomes less about critique-dropping and more about the characters we actually see. Directed by Meghan Arnette, the four-person ensemble works well together, though the frustrated elf stands and sits a lot to express her frustration.
Next up was Paper and Ink by Maggie Lee, a supernatural mystery around surrounding two sisters, an old book in Middle English, and a demon in tattoo sleeves. The tone, a touch too modern to indicate historical fiction, seems to hint that surely the brave, feminist, academic sister will prove to the skittish, shawl-wearing sister that the book is not magic and the Patriarchy is Real. Yet the play complicates itself, and ends on painful, almost-heartbreaking, note. Both sisters give performances strong enough to distract from the hokey poster board books on the bookshelf, and the demon is, in certain moments, genuinely creepy. Director Emma Watt takes up the play’s tone in it’s staging, which feels a little out incongruous with the balance of the night, but makes sense for this piece on it’s own.
Carolyn Kras’s American Mastodon and Seayoung Yim’s Cantaloupe round out the first act and tie for my favorite pieces of the night. In Mastodon, a woman visits a natural history museum after her husband leaves her and meets a security guard who’s new on the job and, of course, a Mastodon. In addition to pitch-perfect awkward humor, Kras sketches out three full mammals in just a few deft strokes. Director Katherine Karaus stages the more naturalistic moments of the play brilliantly; the more abstract movement sections could have been more specific. The cast across the board here is noteworthy, especially the woman visiting the museum. She begins the play like she’s starting the second scene of a one act, not the second second a ten-minute play. The mastodon costume is truly wonderful. In Cantaloupe, Seayoung Yim buries real points about race, sex, and gender in a hilarious and super weird grocery store play. The play stretches in sketch comedy territory sometimes, has some spotty moments with respect to pacing, and lacks the gravity of consequence, but all in all was too funny not to enjoy. Jennifer Jasper directs and employs some clever stage magic to make the magic happen, while the two women in the cast nail Yim’s bestfriend-girlspeak.
Following the intermission, there was trivia contest, which, like the whole evening real, was kind of weird and kind of great.
The final three plays kicked off with Taco Spell by Kelsey Wilk, a goofy, Harry Potter fan-fiction spin-off. Grounding the play in a pop culture reference, even one as well known as Harry Potter, felt a little cheap initially, but I soon recovered. The play is fun, and features the best line of night (“the boy who lived, and the girls he left behind”) but did not leave me with much to think about other than how nitpicky some of my more Harry-Potter serious friends would be if they saw it. Sam Burris, who directed, makes good use of the platforms, but perhaps missed the mark when staging the initial reunion of the long-time-no-see friends, which felt too simple. Both women give solid performances, but do not seem to connect to each other and to the world of the play.
Ann Eisenberg’s Hot was one of the more serious plays of the evening and connected to the theme the most tangentially. Hot is a warm, funny play about the sex life of an older heterosexual couple. Simple and elegant, the play pulls no punches, but chugs along through one section of one evening in this couple’s long life. Therein lies the strength of Eisenberg’s work: you get the sense that these characters had long, rich lives before this long before they start telling stories of their youth. The ending of the play errs on the side of too sweet, to a certain extent undermining all the interesting work the play does about what sex is like when your old. Of course it’s nice to see how very much in love this couple is after presumably a long time, but it’s mismatched answer to the major question the play is asking. Raymond Williams directs this play in quiet patterns, with staging that echoes it’s earlier self and makes the night seem to stretch on. The actors both have a handle on this play, though I found her the more engaging of the two.
The evening wrapped up with The Light Patterns of Strangers by Megan Lohne, another play surrounding a romance, this time between two blind scientists. She studies fireflies and is blind for life, but he qualifies for a transplant that will restore the sight he once had. Lohne successfully disseminates the information you need about the characters’ disabilities subtley. The play centers around the woman’s anxiety about their relationship will change once he can see her fully, and ties that to a neat, poetic exploration and explanation of fireflies. The play ends with a sudden move that, while not out of place, felt unearned. Mike Lindgren directs this one a little too straight, underutilizing the moments of theatricality of the script and preventing the action from gathering steam. Still, it’s a sweet and human piece that features characters I was invested in and curious about.
When the full ensemble comes out for the curtain call, it is a quick index of the whole night of theatre. Needless to say, the good feminist work that Live Girls! is doing is really cool in general, and the fact that they’ve been doing it for so long is even cooler. I’ll confess that I had some anxiety about seeing a night of theatre written only by women, not because I think less of women writers (hello, did you see the Pulitzer contenders this year?/I’m not a jerk), but because I worried a night curated specifically for that purpose might be a long night of Gender Studies 101. There may actually be a time and a place for that, but it certainly is not Quickies. Way to go women, and way to go Live Girls! See it this week if you can.
- I would watch a whole night of short plays under the umbrella title “The Boy Who Lived and the Girls He Left Behind”. Or may it’s a webseries.
- Sadly, I did not get that Taco Spell is a pun on Taco Bell until this morning.
- ToJ is such a cool space, and I’m two for two on loving things I’ve seen there.
- I won a prize at intermission for remembering the dwarf’s character name in Cubicles and Cancer: an RPG.
- I just want to reiterate how bizarre, but ultimately great the transitions between plays were. So bizarre. So great.
- Full disclosure: Emma Watt, who directed Paper and Ink, is one like, eight friends I have in Seattle so if I went easy on that one, that’s why. Also Caroyln Kras when to grad school at CMU when I was in undergrad there and I babysat for her adviser.
Quickies Volume 15 runs this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm at Theatre Off Jackson.
Cubicles and Cancer: an RPG by Chloe Mason; directed by Meghan Arnette
Paper and Ink by Maggie Lee; directed by Emma Watt
American Mastodon by Carolyn Kras; directed by Katherine Karaus
Cantaloupe by Seayoung Yim; directed by Jennifer Jasper
Taco Spell by Kelsey Wilk; directed by Sam Burris
Hot by Ann Eisenberg; directed by Raymond Williams
The Light Patterns of Strangers by Megan Lohne; directed by Mike Lindgren
The Ensemble Cast
Matt Aguayo, Sarah Bixler, Alexandra Gobeille, Kasey Harrison, Ashlen Hodge, Madison Mabbott, Nicole Merat, Jordi Montes, May Nguyen, Mary Nelson Brown, Ryan Sanders, Steven Sterne, Cody Smith, Raymond Williams, and Allison Yolo
The Production Team:
Diana Cardiff (Transition Choreography), Natasha Gier (Costumes), Jessamyn Bateman-Iino (Assistant Stage Manager), Emily Leong (Lighting), Troy Lund (Sound), Robin Macartney (Props and Set), Alison Underdahl, (Stage Manager), and Meggan Davis (Production Manager).