OREM – For the twelfth year in a row, Utah Valley University is presenting their Short Attention Span Theatre, and evening of eight 10-minute plays written, directed, and starring UVU students. Their subtitle this year, “If you don’t like this one, wait ten minutes!” was descriptive of the evening of short plays in the intimate Exbox Theater. I must admit that there were a couple of gems, but it seemed a fairly uneven program.
God is Great, by Jared Bridegan
The first play of the evening was a play with some promise that failed to deliver on the potential. A person of foreign descent is seen on a train with a bag and is acting very nervously. He seems to avoid any contact until cornered. The subject matter seemed too dense for a ten minute time span, and as such, the characters felt underdeveloped. This seems like a great idea for a more fleshed out one act, but in this presentation the end of the story seemed telegraphed in the first few moments. There is no surprise in the ending, and I found myself a little disappointed by the lack of payoff.
Director Amber N. Cummings seemed to downplay the emotion of the situation. The terrorist was too passive, too disconnected making the brief emotional outburst completely unbelievable. As I said, I think this premise shows promise, but this was too short a format to really develop the story the way it needed.
Through the Lens by Ramona Brown
This play proved a little more satisfying to me. A father is packing his bags, preparing to leave his wife of many years, and he has a confrontation with his adult daughter. The tense conversational style and many instances of short, broken dialog helped to give the play emotional depth. There were a few inconsistencies in this, however, such as one point about half way through the play where the motivation of the father seemed to suddenly shift, and the convictions he had expressed to that point seemed to vanish.
The direction by Emily Griffith seemed to just skim along the top of that depth. Jason Evans as the father conveyed a world-weariness that gave insight to his character. Kailey Azure Green as the daughter seemed to have been given the direction to bellow her lines. I understand the basic idea of this, where her character is described as being disconnected and uncaring of the father, but this seemed out of character for an adult daughter. She seemed at times to be about 15, which was unfortunate, because her other performance this evening was quite understated.
Tax Dollars by Daniel Paredes
This was, perhaps, my least favorite of the evening. A broad farce on politics and greed that felt more like a bad Studio C sketch rather than a comedic social comment. The characters were too cartoonish, the humor too scattershot, the setup too obvious, and the payoff too unsatisfying. On character, for example, is setup as being mute and never speaking, supposedly because he lost his tongue in ‘Nam. He then proceeds to speak, several times, with no one being shocked or surprised. Director David Beach seems to believe that a multitude of ills can be covered by slapstick, rolling around on the floor, and grunting which only served to cover a rather preachy and inconsequential monologue. The whole play seemed too haphazardly thrown together with little plan or polish.
Rank by Daniel Paredes
A husband and wife are caught in the middle of a scheme by a corrupt minister to bring about a planned “miracle cure” to addiction to further the “Lord’s work.” This was my favorite show in the first half of the evening, and it came the closest to feeling like a complete play rather than an excised scene. There could have been more explanation of the background of the scheme, as this felt underdeveloped. Director Jordan Cummings did well in showing the desperation of the husband and wife and how they were caught up in this scheme. The ending resolution felt understandable and organic, considering its shocking nature. Lucas Stewart’s minister could have been more menacing, especially when explaining how he had arranged things to keep the couple implicated, but that is a minor criticism.
Between the Pages by Chantel Fricklin
A young man has been imprisoned for a theft, but he hides a secret. While the dialogue of this play seemed the most natural in the night, the end of the play was made clear from almost the very beginning. I knew from the start that the play would not end well for his young sister. However, director Lisa Edwards was able to get some of the most believable performances of the evening out of her actors. Tim Peay and Kailey Azure Green had a natural rhythm and cadence of siblings throughout their dialogue together, and their relationship felt very authentic. I only wish that the ending had been a bit more of a shock.
Mobsters by Trevor Newsome
This was a genuinely humorous play, and contained some great visual gags, but was ultimately somewhat unsatisfying because the humor was too broad to sustain any credibility. While I very much liked how everyone was revealed to have humorous connections to each other, what took the play off the rails for me was the implicit stupidity of the detective. The script also had an odd use of ethnicity and how the detective came off more as a mobster than the mobsters. Director Jacob Squire seemed to suffer from the same problem that the other comedic plays suffered from: the idea that as long as it’s “funny” nothing else matters. It was enjoyable, but fell short of what could have been an amazing short play.
Guidance Program by Teresa Thomas
This was easily my favorite dramatic play of the evening. Director Ben Henderson helped each of his actresses create believable, authentic performances. They all felt very real and seemed to actually connect during their short time on stage. The play also had a natural arc and felt complete on its own. There was natural humor that came out of the situation (a student-led guidance program as part of a psychology class), and the relationships seemed to develop organically. I wish the programs had listed the character names as well as the actor’s names, but Maddy Forsyth, Emma Robinson, and Hannah Scharman were all excellent in their respective roles.
Mad, Mad Love by David Pate
This was easily by favorite show of the evening, and (again) a play that felt complete on its own. The humor was natural, the characters well-crafted, and the story self-contained. The plot is a misunderstanding between a couple as to the state of their relationship. Director Cameron Garcia kept a light touch on the material and let the natural humor shine through. Wade Johnson as the man in the relationship was hysterically funny. His pain and discomfort as each new mistake is revealed was visible and palpable. And while it contained a couple on the worst terms I’ve heard in a while, Mad, Mad Love was very funny and a great end to the evening.
Once again, UVU has shown that they have a very talented program that encourages new authors, actors and directors. And in light of their recent second win at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Awards, it’s no surprise that Short Attention Span Theatre contains some great moments and performances.