The Ridgefield Theatre Barn’s (RTB) An Evening of One Acts presents a fun-filled night of seven short shows that takes you on a spectacular rollercoaster between life, death, and most importantly, human relationships. Now, I know that sounds terribly cheesy, but stick with me.
Each of the seven one acts throws the audience into a scene, some familiar, like an awkward conversation between coworkers, and some larger than life, like the Bible.
Regardless of whether or not the setting is true to real life, however, you can always find something within the conversations that strikes a familiar chord. Arguments between parents and children, friends, and even strangers thrown together all unite to create a cohesive, recognizable through-line that makes for a truly wonderful evening!
The show opened with An Awkward Conversation in the Shadow of Mount Moriah by John Bavoso, which is an interesting premise from the get-go; what happens after a father’s attempt to biblically sacrifice his son goes wrong and they need to hike all the way back down a mountain together? The highlight of this scene for me was the characterization of David Tate as Abraham the father, against Issac, his son, played by Josh Adelson. Abraham, from his walking stick to his vernacular is a character plucked straight from the pages, while Issac… is not, with a hoodie pocket on the front of his long robes (a detail that amused me the whole length of the act) and bright red backpack. While at times I found myself wishing the text itself played up the contrast between tradition and anachronism more, I thought both performers did a wonderful job with the way they spoke and carried themselves to truly capture the dynamic. While it was definitely an unconventional choice for a first scene, it definitely threw the audience right into the deep end to prepare them for the scenes to come. Welcome to the show!
The next scene, No Good Deed by Ed Friedman, was like watching a chess game where one player is unaware they’re playing chess at all. Mark Hankla portrays the anxious, football-loving Benny who has just finished watching his coworker's one-woman show and wants to get out of the theater as fast as possible. (After, of course, making sure his coworker sees that he’s come so she thinks he's a nice guy.) In my opinion, Pamme Jones truly shines in this scene as Brenda, the aforementioned coworker, who's so convinced that Benny’s come to see her perform because he is attracted to her that she won’t take no for an answer. What follows is a fun back-and-forth between the anxious and uncertain Benny who only wants to go and the grounded powerhouse Brenda doing everything in her power to make him stay.
Both actors take what is truly a nightmare scenario and make it fantastic to watch, and keep you thoroughly invested, rooting for both sides throughout the course of the conversation.
Third was Bassinette by Kate Katcher, Directed by Gregory Liosi and starring Cheryl Hughes, Sheri Rak, and Emily Volpintesta. It follows up on the running theme from the first scene of Child vs Parent, something that is consistently scattered throughout the One Act series as another detail that ties the night together. We follow an eccentric mother and daughter on their journey to pick up a free baby bassinet… except neither of them is actually pregnant. The main joke of the scene to me was the contrast between quite how paranoid the mother is in this scheme, even going as far as to blackmail her daughter into lying for her, and how easily the exhausted mother of two selling the bassinet is willing to believe them, no matter how quite how suspicious their story becomes.
A Roman soldier, a gossipy pilgrim woman, a hippie, an angel, and a man named Walt walk into a group therapy session is the premise of The Group by Chris Griffin and the fourth show of the night. It was the second out-of-reality sort of scene we’re given, and I think placing it in the middle was a great move. It definitely woke the audience up in a way, as you sit there trying to figure out alongside Walt exactly what is going on here. The two real scene stealers of this act for me were Taffy (Stephanie) Miller as Marianne and Thomas Stubbs as Cornelius. No matter where in the scene they were you could always look over and find the two thoroughly invested in each other, as they roll their eyes over the proceedings in a way that has you convinced they’re about to say ‘bless your heart’ and whisper about how stupid you are. Rachel Ames plays a terrific straight man to the chaos as Angela, the angel leading group therapy, against the aforementioned gossips, the difficult young hippie Jackie, played by Lindsay Clouse, and the panicky newcomer Walt, played by Bill Warncke, who can’t seem to figure out quite why he’s here.
Incorrigible by Bara Swain was a very sweet scene, while still being funny in its own right. It was a nice moment in the show to bring the audience back down to Earth from the heights of the previous. Janice Rudolph and Rachel Dalton play an offbeat, slightly immature mother and slightly too mature adult daughter running a tag sale (not a garage sale, that’s a big distinction) of the mother’s things. What’s fun about this scene is that throughout 90% of it, we don’t know what the scene is actually about. We know the basics, and the daughter keeps trying to bring it up, but through inappropriate jokes and any distraction she can think of, the mother refuses to let it be explained until the very end of the scene. It’s very touching as much as it makes you think and by holding off the explanation until close to the end, which I won’t spoil for you, you end up understanding a whole lot more than you would have at the beginning.
My two favorite shows of the night were actually the night’s two closing acts. Both of them had all the hallmarks of a fantastic one act: great jokes, great direction, and great performers.
Rugby’s Angels by Joe Carlisle opens with some of the funniest ‘bad acting on purpose’ I’ve ever seen and just got funnier from there. Taking place in the nightmare scenario any performer will find themselves in inevitably one day, the audience sits in on the reading of three friends' terrible screenplay, which sounds suspiciously like another show by the name of well, I won’t spoil it but ‘Someone’s Angels’. Pamme Jones had already sold me on her performance capabilities in No Good Deed, but playing off Angie Joachim as the two actresses attempting to outperform each other for the best role she took it to the next level. Both were hilarious and hilariously over the top and I loved it. It was also awesome to see Mark Hankla in a second, more grounded role. In this scene, there was a level of confidence, if unearned, that he portrayed fantastically, somehow the straight man in a scene where he’s still totally absurd. I think I didn’t stop laughing once from start to finish.
Stealing a Kiss by Laurie Allen was the last show of the night and I think that was a genius move, as it was, in three words, delightful, delightful, and delightful. While the previous scene was hilarious through and through, this one had just a bit more heart, which, while funny, endeared you instantly to the characters. We open at a bus station, where Sue, played by Stephanie Hepburn, is sitting with her umbrella out, but it’s not raining, and Harvey, played by Larry Greeley, has a lot to say about it, much to her displeasure. I’m hesitant to give much more away, as part of the fun of the scene was watching how the conversation grew and the two characters began to warm up to one another, but let me tell you one thing: It’s fantastic. Hepburn and Greeley do an incredible, realistic job. I found myself totally lost in the performance and I’m convinced you will too.
An Evening of One Acts runs from March 10th until April 1st at the Ridgefield Theatre Barn (37 Halpin Ln, Ridgefield, CT 06877), so I recommend wholeheartedly that you get tickets before they run out! Doors open an hour before curtain at 8 pm and you are more than welcome to bring your own dinner to enjoy as you watch. Tickets are available at ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org or by calling the box office at 203- 431-9850. For more information, email info@RidgefieldTheaterBarn.