Review: 10-minute magic at ‘Take Ten’
February 5, 2016
Life is short and bad theater can feel very long. So walking into Theater Masters' annual anthology of 10-minute plays, "Take Ten," you might console yourself that if there's a dud, well, it'll be over soon and you'll be moving on to the next one. This year, no such consolation was necessary.
The 2016 collection of nine short plays — seven from graduate students and two by local high schoolers, which played at the Black Box Theater on Jan. 31 through Tuesday — showcased the diverse joys of live theater.
It opened with the clever "Monument" by UCSD's Bennett Fisher, in which a space alien (Gerald DeLisser) hilariously tries to explain to an ancient Egyptian (Nick Garay) why he's going to build a bunch of pyramids in the desert.
In the deceivingly complex "Prostheses Bound" by Arizona State University's Marvin Gonzalez, an armless man (Travis Lane McDiffett) practices using his prosthetics by playing a block game with his doctor (Shelly Marolt). As the man — cursing and coarse — makes unwanted advances on his doctor, the short play's real story plays out in what he's able to do with his new arms.
UCLA grad student Anna Fox's "Sitting Causes Cancer and Other Modern Tragedies" played out like an absurdly dark "Saturday Night Live" sketch, brilliantly sending up our lonely, multi-tasking, technology- and health-obsessed times. It featured Jancy (Lisa Langer) as a sort of telemarketer running on a treadmill while talking into a headset, licking a piece of bacon and not so subtly inviting her office mate (Garay) to have sex on a copy machine.
"Lilly," by NYU's Peter Zinn, pulled off a narrative trick that could really only work in this short form: two romantically entangled government agents squabble for nine minutes about one of them being disinvited from a key meeting, then a last-minute bomb explosion upends the meaning of what you thought you'd been watching happen.
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In "No More Monsters" by Carnegie Mellon's Jess Honovich, a 13-year-old girl says goodbye to the monster under her bed and hello to adulthood.
The two high school plays held their own beside the grad students' works. Glenwood Springs High's Caroline Piffer gave us "Zompoc," a surreal vision of how a group of self-obsessed, emoji-texting teens might handle a zombie apocalypse. And Roaring Fork High's Tyler Gruel wrote the moving and belly laugh-inducing "No Easy Thing," in which a mortician, a revived corpse and Mephistopheles meet in a morgue.
This year's "Take Ten" offerings also made a persuasive argument for simplicity in stage design. Denver-based technical director Bret Maugham and local set design wizard Tom Ward did wonders with subtle lighting, a few draperies and a handful of furniture pieces. A bed, table, chairs and a doorway — all painted blue — rearranged to create nine very different worlds in the plays.
In Genne Murphy's "Washing," set in a laundromat in a dystopian future, chairs stacked together became washing machines. In the night's closing play, "Four Movements," by Sean David DeMers, the stage was simultaneously a funeral home and a concert hall — two mourners stood upstage with the deceased behind them in a chair at the scene of her death, and a concert crowd suggested around her by silhouettes behind a piece of fabric. What they gave up in naturalistic detail they made up for in creative ingenuity and imaginative suggestion. With the words of promising young playwrights and performances by 23 local actors, they brought us to space, into bedrooms and offices and various apocalypses — all in 10 minutes or less.