Local playwrights, actors shine under stage lights

Short plays are like short stories. Not for them the intricate sub-plots and multiple themes of full-length plays and novels. The short dramatizes a single theme, a revealing action, a moment captured in stage lights like a fossil in amber.

Ashland Contemporary Theatre's "Local Produce 2: Who Knew?," which opened Friday night at the Bellview Grange in Ashland, found six local playwrights often addressing the Woody Allen-esque themes of sex and death.

Darlene Ensor's "First Date" captures the tortured disingenuousness of a man and a woman in the process of hooking up. As they do social/emotional calisthenics in puttin' on their style, other actors slyly reveal the truth.

David C. Hill's "The Acceptance" imagines a woman called on to use heightened speech in a formal context after her husband's death. It's a challenging/rewarding role for Katherine Ross.

"The Gift," by Cynthia Rogan, is a fairy tale about a dowager aunt who may be near death but has one big surprise for the heirs. The time is Halloween, and the story catches the spirit.

In Ruth Wire's "The Winner," it's sex, not death, that raises its comic head. But the central feature of the main character, who's won a short story award, is that she's aging — a road that ends at the big D. "The Winner" is unusual for a short in having three scenes.

I am going to recuse myself from writing about Catherine Noah's "Glutton for Punishment" because Noah is the city editor of this newspaper and a friend. Let's just record that in addition to invoking a seminal character in world literature it also involves a death, albeit a funny one.

I will also not write about Jeannine Grizzard's "Just 10 Minutes With Mom," yet another piece in which death is a theme. The play the audience saw Friday was clearly in some kind of trouble. But Grizzard explained Saturday in an email that what took place on stage was an accident, and that she's fixing the problem. There's nothing to be served by reviewing something that's not what audiences will be seeing.

It is often crazymaking for playwrights to see what directors and others do to their brainchildren, which they've created by sitting down and opening a vein, over and over. You never know what the playwrights felt, but the variety of work was entertaining from an audience perspective. Grizzard's direction of most of these plays was concise, and the troupe of eight actors delivered some nifty characterizations.

Alyssa Leigh Smith and Casey Faubion were very funny first-daters Julie and David, voicing one line ("I'll have a glass of white wine") as other actors portrayed their true feelings ("but what I really want is a pitcher of margaritas").

John Litton showed versatility in portraying characters from a grown-up, spoiled, little rich kid to an overworked, insecure, bureaucratic Satan. Judith Rosen, who's better known as an Oregon Shakespeare Festival dramaturg, likewise brought elan to a variety of roles, showing a gift for comic parts.

"Local Produce 2: Who Knew?" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 8 at the Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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