by SOPHIE KERMAN
What do you do with a group of talented women on a tight budget? You could strap a few pairs of roller skates on them and set them loose in the roller derby arena… or you could give them 24 hours to write, rehearse and perform six short plays. In the 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown, six teams of two writers, a director and three to five actors were presented with the following five ingredients, which were selected via online vote: a prom dress, a short dance break, an Xtreme sports reference, concealed delight, and the line, “Consistency’s a hobgoblin. It’ll steal your pants.” The resulting six creations were performed at 8pm in Hamline University’s Anne Simley Theatre after a scant half-day of rehearsal. In December, we heard from some of this year’s returning participants, so I was particularly excited to see what they came up with in this one-day test of theatrical prowess.
It’s to be expected that six plays written between the hours of 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM will be of uneven quality, but a few really stood out both for their clever writing and high-quality acting. In terms of plot, simpler was always better – with such a tight deadline, the plays with the most straightforward premises hung together the best.
Mike Hentges and Toni Halleen‘s Broken Together was undoubtedly the play that I most wanted to keep watching. The story of the effects of a breakup on a teenage boy and his family mixed poignant moments and humor in a balance that I could easily imagine as an impressive one-act or full-length play. The fact that the ensemble of actors (Roneet Rahamim, Sara Truesdale, Laura Wiebers and the hilariously sullen Otto Linder) managed to create such a realistic family dynamic in such a short period of time also says a lot about the play’s skillful direction by Crystal Schneider, who obviously knows the dramatic and comedic value of a well-placed silence.
The prize for best use of the Smackdown’s consistency hobgoblin, however, goes to Eli Effinger-Weintraub and Katherine Glover‘s Lessons of the Woods. (It may not be a coincidence that Effinger-Weintraub was also the one who submitted the “hobgoblin” line as a potential ingredient.) Thanks in no small part to Tyler Martin‘s gift for physical comedy, this play about two sisters’ adventures in a haunted forest was a hilarious start to the second half of the evening. (Martin played a host of mystically dangerous creatures, including the aforementioned hobgoblin in a cape made out of – what else? – stolen pants.)
Other plays stood out for different elements. Another well-executed comedy was Heather Meyer and Ben Tallen‘s Daphne Olsenson’s 18th Birthday, which was a hit – like the other successful shows – because of its simple premise that spiraled into the absurd. And although Lana Aylesworth and Megan Lembke‘s A Foolish Consistency started out stronger than it ended, the awkwardness of the couples in its first two scenes (Samuel Ahern, Kara Greshwalk, Taous Khazem, and Tyler Stamm) was just priceless.
If the success of a night at the theater can be measured by quantity of laughter, Theatre Unbound has hit the mark with this year’s smackdown. Sure, the evening had its ups and downs – but for the unpredictable, caffeine-fueled results of twenty-four hours of artistic effort, I’d say these talented ladies (and gents) give the derby girls a run for their money.
Theatre Unbound‘s 24:00:00 Xtreme Theatre Smackdown appeared at the Anne Simley Theatre at Hamline University, January 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm.