One-Act Plays and Living with Uncertainty
by Phil Jordan
I love the short stories of Alice Munro. Her first paragraph grabs your attention and takes you deep inside her characters’ minds. Before you know it, you are careening toward some unknown disaster that feels as inevitable as it is catastrophic. But as the story unfolds, the expected calamity becomes softened and dissolves into real life. It is no longer a catastrophe, just people slogging through their lives, trying to figure out their next step. Her stories end ambiguously, as if millions of paths are open for her characters, whereas previously we could only discern one.
A good one-act play is a lot like Munro’s stories. We are thrust into the lives of characters we immediately identify with. The situation quickly becomes vaguely threatening as we try to foretell what is about to happen. But just when we think we know how the story will end, the characters surprise us and take us in a new direction. A whole new set of possibilities are forged by these people we thought we knew. And then the story ends, leaving us to wonder where they go from here.
For me, that is the point of the one-act play – what we think about after the final curtain. What will happen next? How will this encounter change these people? How does it affect the way they see themselves and how they fit into the world?
Earlier this year, I discovered two short plays that brought to mind Alice Munro’s stories. The first is called Light, by playwright Jeni Mahoney. Two best friends from high school re-connect after many years apart. Life has not always been kind to the two friends and although they want to feel the closeness of their younger years, they have both changed. Whether their friendship can continue is an open question.
The second play is called Winter Games, by Rachel Bonds. What struck me about this gem of a 10 minute play was how wonderfully the playwright captures a moment we all have experienced – when in the midst of hum-drum everyday life, someone we thought we knew inadvertently reveals something about themselves and we see them with new eyes. It is beautifully written, and I love how the characters in Winter Games recognize themselves in each other.
These are just two of the plays you will see this June during WICA’s second annual One-Act Fest Northwest. Also on the docket are; This Property is Condemned, a brilliant short play by the incomparable Tennessee Williams (Tristan A.B. Steel directs); Between Us , local playwright David Churchill’s fascinating portrait of a marriage; and for those of you who have been waiting to see local actor Kent Junge’s directorial debut, now is your chance. Kent is staging Ethan Phillips’ acerbic comedy Penguin Blues.