Shortchanged

Traveling Light

When it comes to the 10-minute play, let us borrow the advice of a friend concerning human relationships: get in quick; get out quicker.

That doesn't make for the most enduring unions, but it can produce great theater. In dramaturgical terms, it means getting to the point and dispensing with it. Like a poem or a 30-second commercial spot, there's no room for filler in the 10-minute play.

Of course, it doesn't hurt if there's a point to be gotten to—"Nothing so facilitates the act of writing as actually having something to say," Joseph Epstein once wrote when he clearly had something to say. And if there's a shortcoming in most of the plays that make up Traveling Light, a group of shorts produced by New Voices, it's pointlessness.

That might be the shame of a faulty premise: all seven plays are riffs on the theme of vacations. Vacations suggest a great deal of movement, and each of the playwrights here is enslaved to action—a real problem in the 10-minute format.

An effective 10-minute play is like—hah!—a really cool vacation. It bends the rules and plays with structure to such a degree that you feel you've escaped to a strange but familiar world, that you've just experienced something you've never seen before. Consider everyone's favorite contemporary writer of 10-minute plays, David Ives. Ives has turned the necessity of brevity into a virtue; his shorts constantly tinker with form, whether through ingenious wordplay or structure—as in plays that run backward, against time's arrow. Such experimentation contributes to the density of Ives' ideas and produces shorts that pack the punch of much longer plays.

But in Traveling Light, none of the writers seems concerned with form. The seven plays feel either like sketches drawn out to last 10 minutes or like longer plays brutally beaten into 600 seconds. At their heart, they're still either situation comedies or domestic dramas seemingly unconcerned with stretching the boundaries of their genre, overly concerned instead with gimmicks and situation.

The pieces that do work, like Tom Swimm's poignant exploration of marital infidelity, Hourglass, aren't slaves to the premise. Swimm quickly sets up his situation—as gimmicky as it might be—which is a married couple washed up on a beach after some sort of maritime accident. Their best friend's luggage washes up on the beach shortly afterward. The luggage is a Pandora's box: when it's opened, hell breaks loose. Swimm doesn't spend time on anything but moving his piece along, and while Hourglassis still a fairly conventional play, it at least adds up to something.

John Bolen's Rudy In Saigongives us the evening's most interesting character, George (a very believable David Cramer), who is vacationing in Saigon, where he meets a high school buddy, Rudy, who died in the war. We realize quickly that George's pilgrimage is a way of exorcising the ghosts of his past. But clueless blocking muddles whatever potential lies in this piece.

The next two plays, Linda Whitmore's E-Z Shuttle and Michael Buss' Gate 67, are the funniest on the bill. The first features a bus driver, Kelly Godfrey, unexpectedly giving birth while driving a passenger, Gregory Joseph Allen, to his airline terminal. The second follows a newlywed couple on an Italian vacation. The gimmick? At every airport, they meet the same eccentric traveler at Gate 67.

For the most part, Traveling Light is traveling lite. The material is bland, the characters uninteresting and the dialogue just kind of there. There are a couple of chuckles and a sporadic moment or two of poignancy, but not much else. Rather than taking us somewhere new and exotic, where we can experience the exhilaration of losing ourselves in the midst of something completely different, most of the plays feel like a one-night stand in the local Radisson, where you fork out 100 bucks for a room, pour bubble bath in the spa, watch cable TV on someone else's sheets, and then get up in the morning and go about your business. These plays don't just fail to travel; they don't even move.

Traveling Light at Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 821-6903. Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m. Through Sept. 16. $10-$13.

 
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