The 10-minute play is an unforgiving medium: in the space of a leisurely sojourn to the restroom, you've somehow got to communicate character, setting, plot and conflict. There's little room for error, but Six at Eight, a bill of one-acts comprising the four winners of the annual West Coast Ten-Minute Playwriting Contest, supplemented by three published works, makes up for the occasional misfire with contagious conviction and an admirable willingness to experiment. With a half-dozen plays (and an extra during the matinee) skyrocketing by in under two hours, it's hard to get more bang for your drama buck than this.
First-place winner Magdalena Gomez's The Andalusian Dream is a wild spiral of dream, memory, reality and illusion. Sometimes it moves so fast as to blur, but this story of war, family, love, adolescence, womanhood, betrayal and much, much more (yes, it's an intense 10 minutes) is never less than fascinating. Companion pieces Singleton, The Medal Winner(a published piece by Thomas Babe with an edgy performance by Craig Johnson) and Cool Waters (Tom Snyder's second-place piece, highlighted by Brian Page's direction) are similarly sober and surreal, warping fundamental questions of spirituality and morality into tight vignettes. If the pieces feel disjointed at times, let's still credit the ambition.
After intermission, complexity is sacrificed in favor of coherence, and everyone breathes easier for it. Third-place winner Robert Macadaeg's Penis Play is a pitch-perfect dig at hard-selling human insecurity, beautifully rendered through the metaphor of the modern dildo salesman. Stacey Stallard and Mitchell Nunn deliver sparkling performances here and elsewhere, radiating fluidity and grace. (Don't miss Stallard in the matinee bonus performance of fourth-place winner Cassie Angley's The Wallet, a sweet little sleeper of a story about two girls in love.) Romulus Linney's Starsoffers a bleak balcony scene that nicely and uncomfortably plays to everyone's sweaty inner voyeur, and Craig Lucas' What I Meant Was begins as a smirky gimmick and roars into something tender, honest and moving—jeers to tears in 600 seconds flat. It's the perfect end to an evening of lightning-fast theater and a powerful demonstration of how much we can say in just 10 quick minutes.
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Six at Eight at the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-8007. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (The Wallet performed on Sun. and on May 19). Through May 19. $5-$15.