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'The Tens' Delivers Smart, Provocative Bites of Theatre at Actors

The Actors Theatre apprentice company shows in their production of “The Tens” how much—or comparatively little—one can actually think, feel and experience in a mere 10 minutes. “The Tens” features eight new plays each running 10-minutes, a length that, for some choices, proves perfect for a rush of resounding emotion; for others, seems to inhibit full character development; and for yet other works, gives a window for seamless storytelling.

Ten-minute plays are like the flash fiction of the theatre world, needing only to possess the semblance of a beginning, middle and end to function as a satisfying work. Of the eight produced, “Not Another 9/11 Play,” exemplifies this point and feels as if an emotion-driven moment was plucked from time and reenacted on stage.

Alexis (Casey Wortmann), Blake ( Joe Lino) and Charlie (Brian Muldoon) all work in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office—and they are currently experiencing a crisis. Amidst the teacher’s strike, a picket sign that read, “The Mayor Loves Nickelback.” The image, which has already been online for 18 hours, is going viral and ruining the hip vibe the members of mayor’s office try so hard to present to the public.

They need a counterstory, but, as Alexis points out, it’s 9/11, and no one is more hated on 9/11 than Saddam Hussein. She and Blake spin an elaborate tale in which the mayor, who worked as a civilian volunteer, got his middle finger shot off by Hussein because he was flipping him off across the desert. While Charlie is a little dubious (he knows that the mayor’s finger was actually sliced off at an Arby’s on the North Shore), Alexis and Blake send the story off to some tabloids. All is settled—until crisis strikes again.

Actors with even a shred of inhibition would have ruined the momentum of playwright Sonny Das’ bizarre, yet believable world; but Wortmann, Lino and Muldoon all establish rich, engaging characters to sidesplitting effect.

“The Q&A” by John Rooney is a stellar example of how much depth can be developed in the 10-minute frame. It opens on two brothers (Max Monnig and Aaron Lynn) sitting by a lake, having a few beers, and playing a game of random questions. While it seems a fairly simple plot, throughout the game we become organically acquainted with numerous joys, tragedies and uncertainties the brothers share.

"Cabin Fever" is an example of a piece that leaves you wanting more information, though it's not necessarily satisfying. The plot hinges on two new, rather timid, lovers who met on OKCupid and are staying in a cabin for a weekend; they get separated in the small home after a fire alarm goes off unexpectedly and trips the power. While in different rooms, the two can't hear each other and say things they wouldn't otherwise.

It's a sweet, if kind of odd, idea for a plot that is acted well—but the progression of feelings is rather unnatural, and the accompanying dialogue stilted and rushed.

While some of the selections came off as a tad disjointed under the constraint of time, the evening of work as a whole, is beautifully executed and covers the bases of smart, wickedly funny and emotionally provocative.

"The Tens" runs through Saturday.

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