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Festival of One Act Plays

By Heidi Sutton

From Mainstage productions to children’s theater, to concerts and film screenings, comedy shows and improv, Theatre Three always has a lot to offer. However, it is the Festival of One-Act Plays that many look forward to each year with eager anticipation. 

Showcasing six original works selected from 425 submissions, the 22nd annual festival opened last weekend for a nine-performance run in the intimate setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage. 

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, each short play is exciting; some dark, some funny, some sad, with lots of twists and turns. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar that makes it all so entertaining to watch. 

The show kicks off with Tom Slot’s “Playlist to Have a Crisis To.” Teenager Alexis (Nicole Bianco) has just hit a burglar dressed in a Santa Claus suit (Stephen T. Wangner) with an encyclopedia and he’s on the floor unconscious. She calls her girlfriend Tanya (Michelle LaBozzetta)to come over to wait for the police to arrive. When the man wakes up he claims to be the real Santa Claus. He knows things only Santa would know, but everyone knows he’s only a legend, right? And if he is real, will Alexis always be known as the girl who beat up Father Christmas?

Next up is “For a Moment in the Darkness, We Wait” by Libby Leonard, the touching story of two gay men, the older Bernard (Douglas Quattrock) and teenager Connie (Ryan Schaefer) struggling to hide their sexual identity in New York City the 1940s. You feel their pain, their frustration and their sadness in this emotional performance. 

The mood lightens greatly with “Perfectly Normal” by J. Joseph Cox, a hilarious look at the changing workplace. Antoine Jones, Suzie Dunn, Steve Wagner, Nicole Bianco and Ginger Dalton star in this delightful comedy. There’s a new boss in town and we hear of the workplace changes from breakroom gossip. “He swept in here like the Gestapo!” Employees are disappearing, Human Resources is boarded up, cavity searches are being conducted, and the final blow, coffee has been replaced by tea. This is normal?

“Family by Numbers” by Arianna Rose is the heartbreaking story of a family that loses a son in a hiking accident. Beautifully written, it  begins when the parents first meet, get married, raise three boys and then struggle with their tragic loss and one less number. Powerful performances all around by Steve Ayle, Linda May, Dylan Robert Poulos, Steven Uihlein and Ryan Schaefer.

After intermission, Rich Orloff’s “The Unforgivable Sin of Forgiveness” takes the stage. A wife (TracyLynn Conner) confesses to her husband (Antoine Jones) that she has been having an affair for three years. His response? “I know.” Taken aback, the wife turns the tables and demands to know why he hasn’t let on that he knew all this time. “You lied to your wife when all these years I’ve been faithful six days out of seven?” she exclaims in disbelief.

The final and longest act, “The Making of Medea’s Medea” by Chas Belov, is where the production of Medea’s modern-day retelling of her own story of revenge is played out on Theatre Three’s Mainstage while being turned into a documentary. We meet Medea, Jason, the actors that play them, the actors that play the part of the employees at Theatre Three, psychologists, Greek playwrights and more. The entire cast takes part with special mention to Linda May as the heartbroken and vengeful Medea.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get yourself a ticket before they sell out.

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present the 22nd annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 5. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

LEAVE US IN PEACE — WE JUST WANT TO DO PLAYS! TracyLynn Conner, Dondi Rollins and Morgan Howell Rumble in a scene from ‘Dark’

By Heidi Sutton

When a One-Act Play Festival receives 415 submissions, it cannot be easy to choose just a handful. But that’s exactly what Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays founder and Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel was tasked with doing this year and the result is extraordinary. Showcasing seven original works, the annual festival opened last weekend for a 10-performance run.

“For the first time on any stage, these works come to life,” explained Sanzel, who also serves as director. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’ A comedy [is] followed by a drama, a farce by an experimental work …” in a two-hour marathon in the cozy setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, a space so intimate that it “allows the audience to breathe the same air as these … characters. There is no wall. There is no division.”

Steve McCoy and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘At the Circus’

The show kicks off with Chip Bolcik’s “At the Circus,” starring veteran actor Steve McCoy and festival newcomer Dylan Robert Poulos. In an ironic twist, a trapeze artist (McCoy) and a clown (Poulos) have grown tired of life in the circus and dream of a life of normalcy, of running away with the audience. They long to have a house with a window to look out of, a driveway, the opportunity to drive to the grocery store. “They have no idea how lucky they are, do they?” wonders Poulos as he looks longingly into the crowd, giving nod to the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Next up is “Interview with the First Family” by Tom Slot, a behind-the-scenes reality TV look at what really happened in the Garden of Eden and where they are now. Adam (Antoine Jones) is a surfer, Eve (Susan Emory) works at a bakery — “People can’t get enough of my apple pie,” Cain (Morgan Howell Rumble) is a convict doing time for killing his brother Abel and God (Linda May) is just sitting back seeing how the world spins and working on her stand up act. Her biggest regret? Creating the mosquito. 

“Plumb Desire,” written by Patrick Gabridge, is a hilarious take on how hard it is to find a good handyman these days and the relationships that develop. Darius (played by Steve Wangner) has found such a man in Jackson (Dondi Rollins), a plumber who has been renovating his bathroom. Jackson hasn’t shown up lately so Darius tracks him down and tries to woo him back with flowers and a six pack of beer. “I’ve been searching for a plumber for so long and you are the one,” he whines, adding, “Do you remember when we   replaced all the vents on the radiators?” Jackson finally breaks down and admits that “sometimes plumbers can be flaky — it comes with the territory.” Will he be back on Monday to finish the job?

TracyLynn Conner and Meg Bush in a scene from ‘Class”

Comedy switches to drama with Andrea Fleck Clardy’s “After Class.” Madison (Meg Bush in a powerful performance) is a mentally disturbed student who speaks of bringing a gun she’s nicknamed “Kim” to class as her teacher Amy Clausen (TracyLynn Connor) struggles with handling the scary situation.  

After intermission, “Bird Feed” by Melanie Acampora takes center stage. Three pigeons sit on a ledge in Manhattan chatting. It’s Georgie’s (Susan Emory) birthday — she’s two years old today. Her friends Bertha (Meg Bush) and Rayna (Nicole Bianco) want to take her out to celebrate when Bertha overhears someone saying that the average life span of a pigeon is just two and half years, leading to a contemplation on birthdays and mortality.  

There’s a mole loose in the world of acting in Jack McCleland’s “Dark.” It’s open hunting season and actors are being picked off one by one. Every time they find a hiding spot, they are mysteriously found and shot to death. Three actors — Steve (Morgan Howell Rumble), Meg (TracyLynn Conner) and understudy Carl (Dondi Rollins) are holed up in a warehouse and are being ordered to come out. “Leave us in peace! We’re actors — we just want to do plays!” they plead. One last warm up and they venture outside and the snitch is finally revealed as Ethel Merman’s rendition of “No Business Like Show Business” plays jubilantly in the background.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco and Susan Emory in a scene from ‘Bird Feed’

Sanzel saves the best for last with Charles West’s courtroom spoof, “Home Versus the Holidays.” A man is on trial for waving a sword at a church group singing Christmas carols in front of his home. The audience is sworn in as the jury and the judge (Linda May) calls the first witness to the stand, the chaperone to the group (Steve Wangner).

After the district attorney (Nicole Bianco) asks him some questions, the defense lawyer (Antoine Jones) is allowed to cross-examine and hilarity ensues. Using visuals, song lyrics and the alleged weapon, Jones turns the Christmas spirit on its head in a stunning performance that must be seen to be believed. You’ll be in stitches long after the show ends.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get your ticket before they’re sold out.

The cast: Nicole Bianco, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Susan Emory, Antoine Jones, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dondi Rollins, Morgan Howell Rumble, Steve Wangner

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 21st Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 6. Contains adult language and subject matter. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Brian Smith, Steven Uihlein, Phyllis March and Joan St. Onge in a scene from ‘Lower Education’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Raw, imaginative, thought-provoking and brave. Unafraid to push the envelope and tackle some of society’s most dynamic and difficult issues. At times, irresistibly funny, wildly inappropriate and enormously fun. There are so many ways to describe Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays but ultimately it comes down to this: theater at its absolute finest.

Tucked below the main stage of Theatre Three’s Athena Hall is a black box theater named after the late Ronald F. Peierls. This second stage creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere for the audience and provides a perfect venue for all seven shows.

Since the 1998 to 1999 season, Theatre Three has received an incredible 8,000 one-act play submissions. Of those entries, it has presented 113 world premieres by 79 different playwrights. What you’re seeing really is the best of the best.

Clockwise from left, Antoine Jones, Kate Keating, Joan St. Onge and Jacqueline M. Hughes in a scene from ‘Counting Sheep’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

One-acts, for those who are not familiar, are just that — a single-act show. Often varying in length and subject matter, they are given the flexibility to tackle things playwrights would usually be unable to address with a mainstage production. In my mind, a great one-act is a lot like the center of an Oreo. They skip all the fanfare and get right to the creamy good stuff in the middle. They rely not on orchestra pits, colorful costumes or dynamic sets but rather on vigorous acting, quality writing and superb direction.

“Counting Sheep” by Jae Kramisen, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” by Patrick Gabridgen, “The Kitchen Fairy” by Scott Gibson, “Lower Education” by Lewis Shilane, “A New Lease” by Tony Foster, “Upset over Nothing” by Robin Doupé and “When Driven” by Melanie Acampora all made their debut last Saturday afternoon. These writers vary in age, gender and at least one was from out-of-state.

Just prior to the premiere I had the opportunity to talk to Theatre Three actress and playwright Melanie Acampora. “I started writing three years ago” delving into the process of creating a one-act. It’s less pressure than acting,” she said. One of the hardest parts of writing a script is seeing how it’ll be adapted. When asked if she was pleased with Theatre Three’s adaption, Acampora replied,“It’s even better than in my head, thanks to Jeff [Sanzel].”

From left, Skyler Quinn Johnson and Brian Smith in a scene from ‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Sanzel, the festival’s founder and director of all seven shows, proves once again what enormous talent we have right here on Long Island. His skills transcend genre and are wonderfully on display — up close and personal for the whole audience to enjoy. How a person could direct so many shows while finding time to sleep is beyond me!

This emotional roller coaster will have you leaving the theater with a newfound appreciation for playwrights. Unlike the bravado of Broadway, they cannot hide behind the pomp and circumstance of massive musical numbers or high-priced sets (although I do love a good ole’ kickline).

Each show’s success depends almost solely on its craftsmanship and its cast. That being said, there was not a single actor I didn’t love during these seven performances. Many of the actors took on not just one role but several in multiple shows, displaying their incredible capabilities and range as performers.

Whether you are a theater aficionado or a first-time theatergoer, get yourself a ticket before they sell out. This wonderful experience is only on stage for a limited time. To the playwrights, my hat is off to you, brava and bravo. Hoping to see more of your work soon!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present The 20th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through April 1 at The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Please note: Adult content and language. Parental discretion is advised.