Small plays tackle big is­sues

Orlando Sentinel - - PEOPLE & ARTS - Matthew J. Palm The­ater & Arts Critic mpalm@or­lan­dosen­

Play­wrights’ Round Ta­ble has its usual grab bag of short-at­ten­tion-span the­ater with “Launch 2020,” a col­lec­tion of eight mini-plays, all roughly about 10 min­utes in length. As is typ­i­cal in a mixed pro­gram, some hit the mark more than oth­ers. In this out­ing, both silly come­dies and heart­felt dra­mas make the most im­pact.

Adam Szu­drich’s “Rosa and Leo” is the most fully re­al­ized of the of­fer­ings, grab­bing the at­ten­tion with its open­ing scene in which Rosa (Cindy Karr) slams the phone down on Leo (Mark Davids) with the sin­gle word, “Liar.” But Leo has her num­ber, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, and he di­als again in this un­con­ven­tional ro­mance of the heart­break­ing kind.

The two met in a Ger­man con­cen­tra­tion camp and haven’t seen each other in decades. And in just a few mo­ments, this exquisitel­y crafted look at the lives of two char­ac­ters who en­dured the un­think­able en­com­passes the big is­sues: be­trayal, loy­alty, for­give­ness, love. Di­rected with care by Kate Den­son, it’s beau­ti­fully per­formed.

Jackie Martin’s “Hall­mark Doesn’t Make Cards for Us” like­wise touch­ingly but not mawk­ishly con­cerns it­self with for­give­ness. Can a mother (Rockie Ko­brin) ever make up for the sins of the past? Di­rec­tor Sally Daykin nicely con­trasts Ko­brin’s quiet­ness against the more volatile Kaley Kic­mal, play­ing a daugh­ter for whom old wounds have never healed.

More fine act­ing is on view in Dan O’Day’s “The Last Word,” com­pas­sion­ately di­rected by Paul Cas­taneda. Jes­sica Fer­nando and Eric Ku­ritzky are in­stantly re­lat­able as daugh­ter and fa­ther grap­pling with ag­ing, me­mories and legacy. It’s an in­trigu­ingly clear­headed look at the strug­gle of grow­ing old — from the view­point of two gen­er­a­tions.

On the com­edy side, Ava Love Hanna’s “Big Brad Wolf ” is a win­ner. The silly romp imag­ines what would hap­pen if the evil fairy-tale wolf of “The Three Lit­tle Pigs” and “Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood” re­nounced his ways. The writ­ing is smart. “You taste like parental guilt, like fear of change,” the Wolf (James Blais­dell in a spot-on per­for­mance) tells a pig. And that’s this play’s kick: Un­der the funny jokes, it has some­thing to say about dream­ers — the peo­ple who follow their own paths and don’t let tra­di­tion or so­ci­ety’s pres­sures stand in their way.

Bethany Dick­ens’ di­rec­tion keeps the en­ergy high, and bonus points for a slyly am­bigu­ous end­ing.

Fringe vet­eran Katie Thayer’s “Dy­ing Laugh­ing,” di­rected by Rob Cunha, doesn’t go for depth — ex­cept for the fact that its two pro­tag­o­nists are buried un­der­ground. This silly col­lec­tion of puns and non­sense is de­liv­ered with panache by Nathan James and Chris Scott, though the show could use a big­ger end punch.

Like­wise, “The Satin Wor­ship­pers” is acted with pizazz, es­pe­cially by Durell Brown, who demon­strates keen comic tim­ing. But di­rec­tor Rochelle Cur­bow Wheeler hasn’t set the pace quite fast enough for play­wright Peter Dakutis’s silli­ness. On the other hand, I have to ap­prove of com­edy based on a spell­ing er­ror. Brown also ap­pears in Bethany Dick­ens’

“Sheba,” a sex-driven com­edy di­rected by Is­abella James that doesn’t give the au­di­ence any rea­son to care about its char­ac­ters, mak­ing it hard to in­vest in their story.

Fi­nally, Molly Smith’s “The Doll” goes for a “Twi­light Zone” feel with a cou­ple’s quest to cre­ate a per­fect baby. But the play, di­rected by Chuck Dent, verges on off­putting with its fo­cus on wholly un­lik­able peo­ple. And, strangely, the cli­max is given away by the ti­tle.

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