Alex Rotella, Julian Trilling, Geoff White in "Man Woman Man"

Alex Rotella, Julian Trilling, Geoff White in "Man Woman Man"

The second “wave” of one-act plays began on Friday, August 19 at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, RI. We were invited back to preview this additional set of plays selected for production from the many entries. Despite the concern that the best had been presented in the first “wave”, this second set of plays was just as satisfying, if not more so, than the first.

Black Box Artistic Director, Rich Morra, directed all of these entries. One of the reasons the Artists’ Exchange is among my favorite theater stops, is the interesting mix of community, student, and developmental needs clients utilized by Morra in their unique theater program. It is likely the old teacher in me that delights in seeing the growth of the actors who perform at the Black Box.

One such young actor is Alex Rotella. Over the past few years I have watched Rotella perform in a variety of productions in the Black Box Theater. It was a great feeling to see him now in more mature and diverse roles. Rotella was the eerie butcher in the first wave of one-acts in Kevin Broccoli’s “A Winter Place”.  In this wave he plays an erudite man, serious about the value of art.  “My Name is Art” by Peter Snoad provides a clever ending to the eternal debate about “what is art?” Allison St. Rock and Christopher Ferreira challenge the perceptions of Rotella’s character.

The evening begins with a clever little piece performed by a group of students just starting their apprenticeship with Morra. It is cutesy, but fun to watch. “Their Eyes Meet” is performed by John Carpentier, Ethan Miller, Amelia Berg and Mia Ray.

“The Hatchet Job” by Jim Sullivan has interesting  characters. They include Cherylee Dumas as that one loud-mouthed friend we all have who demands to be the center of attention, Barbara Murray-Johnson as her long-suffering friend, and Erin Archer as the victim of corporate down-sizing. Neil Santoro and Amelia Berg round out the cast. I was a bit disappointed with this play. It felt off-balance. The actors have good pacing and there are no long pauses, but I found myself not sure of who to focus on, or who I should sympathize with.

“Missing” by Robin Pond provided me another high of seeing growth in a Black Box player. It is also a comedy done right. Bob Macaux has been involved with the Black Box, as well as other area theaters for several years. It is marvelous to see Macaux on-stage with such confindence and embodiment of character. Macaux plays a harried police detective trying to get the facts straight from a woman reporting her husband missing. Mari Dias is hysterically funny as the somewhat ditzy and largely oblivious woman.

“Context” by John C. Davenport is well-written, but this play also left me a tad deflated. The actors are fine, but the play uses a particular word-play device that I have seen before. So unfortunately for me, although the performance was fine, I lost interest about half-way through the play. Actors in this play are Carol Pegg, Chris Martin, Nina DeRobbio-Miletta and Bob Macaux.

I sincerely feel that the second half of the evening presents three of the most outstanding plays in the entire festival. The first, “Surprise”, by Mark Harvey Levine opens the second half of the evening.  Ken Benoit (whom I have also seen advance in his theater skills at the Black Box) is Peter.  Poor Peter can’t keep a girlfriend, and he knows why, but can’t do anything about it.  Julian Trilling is excellent as Peter’s current girlfriend, Whitney, who is breaking up with him. Trilling punctuates her performance with strong emotions, yet skillfully never overpowers Benoit. She exits, and the surprise for Peter and the audience appears in the guise of waitress, Ester (Allison St. Rock).  St. Rock also presents a distinct, strong character, but keeps it balanced and believable.

“A Couple of Metal Gods” by Trace Crawford is simply fun. It takes you back to college days or memories of rock concerts attended. Mark Carter and Christopher Ferreira are funny, yet endearing, as a pair of metalheads making it through a crisis.

My second personal top pick is the drama “Break” by J. Stephen Brantley. Tom Chace is Scott, a strung-out, homeless man who crawls into a house from the beach. The rag-tag Scott has lost everything, including control of his emotions. Neil Santoro portrays Nigel, the uptight, proper Englishman whose house Scott has broken into. Nigel is wearing expensive silk pajamas. Both Santoro and Chace give outstanding performances that draw the audience in. This play is well-balanced, which is a credit to the actors, the director and the playwright. The two characters seem as opposite as they possibly can be, yet ultimately find a way to understand each other.

My thrid top pick ends the evening.  “Man Woman Man” by L. H. Grant is a comedy, but leaves us with something to think about. Hats off to the playwright, but Julian Trilling as Julie makes her character endearing, when it could be portrayed otherwise. Trilling is delightful  as the bride-to-be of someone. She gleefully presents her charts and graphs of comparison between her two suitors.  She even gets into comparison of intimate details – hilarious to the audience, particularly to the women I suspect. Alex Rotella returns as the energetic young man, Rob, who has propsed to Julie; and, Geoff White appears as the smooth, experienced, well-to-do older man who has propsed to Julie.  Which man will she pick? You have to attend the festival to see the compromised reached by the three.

The Second Wave of the One Act Play Festival at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston runs Friday and Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm from August 19 through August 28. Reservations are highly encouraged due to limited space.  Tickets are $15. Please call 401-490-9475 to reserve tickets.  For more information about programs visit www.artists-exchange.org.