Short Classics

2nd Story Theatre is staging "Short-Attention Span Classics," a festival of four programs that feature brief plays by major playwrights.

Warren, RI –

2nd Story Theatre figures that today's theatergoers, weaned on television and movies, are tired of plays that take hours to cut to the chase. So why not stage a series of plays that make their point in 30 minutes and under? 2nd Story Theatre director Ed Shea says that the festival of short plays provides a new experience for all kinds of theatergoers.

It certainly gives the company a chance to do rarely staged pieces. For some reason or another, major playwrights occasionally pen sketches of odd lengths. The first program of shorts includes "The Sandbox" by Edward Albee, "Killer's Head" by Sam Shepard, and "Bedtime Story" by Sean O'Casey. Other programs will include plays by Eugene O'Neill, Moliere and James Thurber. The series offers a quick tour of 20th century theatrical styles, from realism to absurdism. My only quibble with the choice of plays is the focus on works by dead playwrights. Scripts by playwrights who are still kicking are not getting a chance, though these playwrights could surely use the exposure.

But, the larger question raised by "Short Attention Span Classics" is whether one can have too much of a small thing? The answer depends on its execution. Just because a play is brief, it doesn't mean it isn't demanding, and that is where 2nd Story Theatre comes up short, at least in the first of the four programs. Sketches can be particularly difficult because performers have to create characters immediately. The temptation is to coast on stereotypical gestures and movements. Ed Shea directs all the pieces that are cast with his acting students. Their lack of experience on stage shows. However, the performers do bring plenty of enthusiasm to their roles.

Unfortunately, spirit takes performers only so far, particularly in a surrealistic script by Edward Albee. And an actor needs technique to pull off the visceral power of Sam Shepard's "Killer's Head," a monologue delivered by a person about to be executed in the electric chair.

"Short Attention Span Classics" is admirable. It presents unfamiliar work to audiences who are interested in alternatives to the usual two hour-long plays. But, judging from at least the first program, the evening feels like a round up of student exercises -- it goes by much too quick to stick.

"Short Attention Span Classics" run through April 21, 2002 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, Rhode Island. For tickets and other information, call (401) 247-4200.