For the holiday season, New Voices Playwrights' Workshop is presenting another of its "10-minute play" evenings, this once called "The Twelve Plays of Christmas," at the Theatre District in Costa Mesa.
This group's problem has always been not knowing the difference between a television sketch and a play and bouncing between the two. The interplay is even more pronounced in this production.
A play has real people in it, doing real things, and, one hopes, learning something in the process. New Voices contributors have their best average in their current production of 11 plays--the 12th is a poem--with several plays to balance the faux-"Saturday Night Live" fare.
There is vibrating honesty in John Lane's restrained and comic "I've Got Plans." Two office workers--the funny Alex Dorman, whose timing is perfect, and a slightly overdone Kelly Keefe--find that the awful person in the next cubicle is actually cute.
Vincent Morales' "The Ghost of Christmas Present" is a mildly interesting comedy about a man who finds and brings home a box of ashes of someone named Vern. His wife won't have it, especially on Christmas Eve, but the very O. Henry-esque denouement is satisfying under Tiina Wiles' direction. Kevin Moynaghan and Teresa Carillo are convincing as the couple.
Gina Shaffer, a writer to watch, provides an interesting, comic and touching monologue called "Dreaming of Barbie." A telemarketer who sells Barbie dolls is obsessed with her hatred of the toys and the way they control young girls' lives. It's beautifully acted by Tiffany McClintock and directed with taste and passion by Sharyn Case.
"Annie's Christmas" is a potentially powerful one-act by Debra Valle. It describes a bitter holiday eve fought out among the wife, young daughter and mother of a man who died in a drunken-driving accident. They're obsessed with his death and whether Christmas should have joy or pain. It's well written; it's also well directed by Sara St. James and well acted by Niki Gross, Gigi Parker and Claire Kirk. Its movie-of-the-week addiction subject unresolved, and the play ends feeling unfinished.
The best entry is Stephen Ludwig's "No More Angels," a simple tale of an older gay male at last-call in a gay bar on Christmas Eve.
The hunky young male bartender decides to go home with the customer, and even after some early morning jousting about ethics, they decide to try to make a relationship.
This writing should serve as example example to the others of what a play is all about--passion, decision, coping and, most theatrical of all, surprise. It is affectingly directed by Sharyn Case, and acted with empathy and understanding of the play's moments of magic by Russell Elder and Tom Swimm.
Other members of the group are still writing those TV-style sketches, and some don't even need mentioning. Of those that do, Chris Trela's "A Critics Carol" borrows story and characters from Dickens for a diatribe on theater critics--which, incidentally, Trela is.
Scott Samson's "Returning Woody" also borrows characters: Blanche DuBois, Evelyn Mulwray ("Chinatown") and a third who is mistaken for Woody Allen.
Both plays are directed by the authors, and the actors should take back any Christmas presents they may have given the writer-directors. How's that for a Scrooge review?
* "The 12 Plays of Christmas," Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. $12. Ends Sunday. (949) 225-4125.
"I've Got Plans"
Kelly Keefe: Marge
Alex Dorman: Gerard
Niki Gross: Stacey
Gigi Parker: Annie
Claire Kirk: Dori
"No More Angels"
Russell Elder: Michael
Tom Swimm: George
"Dreaming of Barbie"
Tiffany McClintock: Patricia
"Ghost of Christmas Present":
Kevin Moynaghan: Ryan
Teresa Carillo: Penny
A New Voices Playwrights Workshop production of an evening of one-act plays. Directed by Autumn Browne, Gigi Parker, Chris Trela, Sara St. James, Christina Moorhead, Sharyn Case, Scott Sampson and Tiina Wiles. Also featuring Moorhead, Lloyd Botway, Brian Harvey, Bryan Jennings, Larissa Tidwell, David Shein, Chaka Small, Susan Juhl Halverson, Sara Moneymaker, Greg Lipford, Vanessa Robertson and Danny Cusimano. Scenic design: Michael Buss. Lighting design: Joe Koonce. Stage manager: Buss.