Short Plays Long on Talent in The Bard's Town's Ten-Tucky Festival
The Bard’s Town Theatre has undergone a transformation in its short lifetime from a theater devoted primarily to new works by Kentuckians to a producer of excellent contemporary plays, period. But the annual Ten-Tucky Festival, the bill of 10-minute plays curated from open submissions by Kentucky native and resident playwrights, remains a mainstay of the theater’s season. This year’s festival, which opened last night in the theater upstairs from the pub/restaurant, features one of the strongest line-ups of short plays yet.
The Ten-Tucky Festival runs through Sept. 28 at The Bard’s Town (1801 Bardstown Road). The next full-length show to open in the theater’s season is producing artistic director Doug Schutte’s “Just Like Life,” Nov. 6-16.
While many 10-minute plays tend to be comedies—in general, while it’s more difficult to sustain comedy throughout a full-length play, it’s similarly tough to establish a powerful dramatic arc in 10 minutes—two strong dramas anchor this festival.
Mark Cornell’s “All the Answers” is polished, well-paced, and neatly contained in its 10-minute package. “All the Answers” features a tense conversation between Joe (Schutte, who also directs), a man who dies and enters an interstitial encounter with teenaged Isabel (Kelsey Thompson) who holds the answers to all of life’s questions. There’s a catch, of course, but the premise never overshadows the very human relationship between the two weary strangers. “There is no joy in knowing all things,” Isabel warns him, and in its brief time on stage the play manages to explore themes of mortality, mystery, the price of suffering and the torture of never really knowing what life is worth or even about.
Taj Whitesell’s “The Bubble” is another strong script that packs years worth of joy and pain into its compact form. Directed by Beth Tantanella, old friends Mitch (Jeremy Sapp) and Jane (April Singer) meet up for one night only in a strange city and contemplate what might have been between them. The end is a tear-jerker, but it never feels manipulative—Sapp and Singer sell the quiet desperation of two people who see how happy they could be, but won’t, with quiet strength.
But it wouldn’t be a Ten-Tucky Festival without laughs. Tara Anderson’s “Shop At Home” explores the particularly dreadful contemporary adult female experience of reluctantly attending those quasi-pyramid-scheme shopping parties. Strong comedic acting by the all-women ensemble, as directed, with an amped-to-11 farcical hysteria, by Jake Beamer. Emily (Singer) visits her friend Jane (Megan Brown) only to find herself in a “buy some gardening tools!” party. “Book club never gave me financial freedom, Emily,” Jane admonishes. Emily reaches her “mad as hell” moment as the demented housewives who have abandoned their high-powered careers to sell girlie-styled auto repair kits and the like out of their suburban family rooms (Julie Streble, Amy Steiger, Kelsey Thompson) pressure her into joining their ranks. The jokes are funny because they’re true, though a few repeating gags could be cut to make room for a stronger friendship dynamic between Emily and Jane. (Note: "Shop at Home" playwright Tara Anderson works for Louisville Public Media as a DJ for our sister station, WFPK.)
A little less realistic, but no less funny, is Corey Music’s dark museum comedy “Action & Interaction.” Set in a Frazier History Museum-style institution, an incredulous new employee (Scot Atkinson, who also directs) learns the museum’s dangerous new game, established by an odious bro (Ryan Watson) with a taste for extreme action. Decked out in a horrifying wig and pirate outfit, Sapp is hilarious as a swashbuckling historical interpreter who takes his job a little too seriously.
David Clark’s “Edgar,” directed by Amy Steiger, has a similar tone, but the office farce about arcane corporate rules and the dire consequences for breaking them isn’t as developed. Watson and Streble give it their all as the new data entry guy stalked by a weird HR rep, but the script gives them a lot to say and little to do.
Somewhat more predictable is Bryce Woodard’s “BSFFs,” a superhero parody that combines a lot of familiar comedy sketch material into a bickering session between the Superfriends that doesn’t really advance comics satire, but does include a hilariously low-rent execution of (what I can only imagine is) an extremely problematic stage direction involving an octopus. Beamer directs this one as well, and his portrayal of the underrated Aquaman is the funniest of the bunch.
Gary Wadley’s “The Library” is a sweet ode to the poetry of love about a nebbishy guy (Watson) with a peculiar speech-based disability smitten with a shy librarian (Brown). Directed by Cara McHugh, this one’s a sleeper, a quiet little number whose central joke doesn’t overwhelm the transformation the librarian undergoes as she considers how different her life would be with this nerdy guy instead of her loutish “habit” (Beamer, again, in a strong cameo). Brown’s tremulous vulnerability is always compelling on stage, and this script gives her a nice tight frame for it.