Short plays (ten minutes and under) can be a difficult theatrical beast because they are so rarely given life outside of contests for teenagers and writing exercises for those seeking to build up to larger work. In According To Plan, Once Upon a Theatre Collective stages four short plays written by Kristin Slaney at the Neptune Studio Theatre closing November 16th, 2012 and the collective encounters many of the typical challenges inherent to this forum.
There are two types of short plays that can be really captivating and riveting for an audience to watch: an entirely well polished, tightly constructed play that lives and breathes with all the same arc, tension, stakes and theatrical elements that one comes to expect from a professionally written full-length play or a well polished, tightly constructed scene, again with all the same elements one comes to expect from the professional theatre, that suggests the possibility of it being fleshed out into a future larger work. Slaney’s plays, many of which were written for (and already performed once) for Once Upon a Theatre Collective’s Short Play Night, are not yet finessed to a point where they fit either category, but instead seem like the early draft of a kernel of an interesting idea, which doesn’t warrant a $20.00 ticket price.
In “The Proposal Game” the concept of a couple who stage fake proposals for kicks is an interesting one but the real relationship between the two characters hasn’t been fleshed out enough for me to care about it. Slaney has a penchant for writing endearing male characters, ones that showcase that side of both Glen Matthews and Griffin MacInnes here very sweetly, but her female characters are far more wishy-washy and while their rejection or exasperation with their male counterparts is obvious, the motivation of why they are making these decisions is less clear. I thought “Arthur and Amelia” had the most potential for something that could become a longer play, but so much of Amelia in this incarnation was left a muddled blank- awkward on the surface but missing the substance underneath. I would also encourage Slaney to move away from formulaic sitcom story arcs, even in short play writing, and to allow herself to explore her own uniqueness as a writer.
I know the circumstances of this particular show were limiting, but I find Once Upon a Theatre Collective has a penchant for staging work that would benefit from more time in development (and relying on the gimmick of “awkwardly thrown together at the last minute for your enjoyment!” which has grown tired and clichéd) to reach its full potential. I would rather see one play after a year or more of development that showcases all the talents that I know this group of ambitious and passionate theatre artists are capable of than four that only give me brief glimmers of it.
I am really looking forward to seeing Slaney’s Poem For the Smallest Boy in the Spring. I think often more time can make the magic!