February 29, 2008

Fine Arts feast of one-acts delicious

This ‘a la carte’ menu should please different tastes

John Benson

Much as with a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get when you attend a showcase of new works from upstart playwrights.

Still, that’s part of the appeal, which is why the Fine Arts Association’s 12th Annual One Act Festival, “Hot From the Oven: a la carte,” taking place weekends now through March 8 in the Corning Auditorium, remains one of the FAA’s treasured productions.


Thankfully, opening night Feb. 22 delivered one tasty performance after another. Veteran director Ann Hedger proves her talents by skillfully front-loading the show’s lively first act with momentum that carried the esoteric – but by no means slow – second act.

Specifically, “Kung-Foolery” is without a doubt the funniest “Hot From the Oven: a la carte” performance in recent years. Actress Krista Hiner plays the sweet, dutiful wife Karly, whose only wish was for her ninja-wannabe husband, Barry (Trey Gilpin), to once a year get along with her visiting mother (Yvonne E. Pilarczyk).

“Nobody else has tiger traps or throwing stars when she visits,” pleads Hiner with all the sincerity of a PTA mom.

The one-act work is stolen by Gilpin, whose Jack Black-esque physicality and Jon Lovitz-like line delivery resulted in wide-spread audience laughter. Kudos to the black ninja suit-wearing Gilpin for diving headfirst into his role and to Hiner for somehow keeping a straight face.

There are plenty of intended messages behind the first act of “Hot From the Oven: a la carte”; “Blog” commenting on the power of opinions, while “The Venting Machine” takes a laborious stab at economic-class rivalries. Actress Nancy Brooks provides the former one act with the perfect amount of ego, while Mark DePompei exudes a much-needed sense of entitlement in the latter.

As for the show’s second half, the productions are slightly less focused, more cerebral and drama-based, with “worlds Apart” bringing back together two Woodstock hippies and “Thirst” detailing the horrors of schizophrenia. While both feature topnotch acting, the back-to-back productions begin the second half of “Hot From the Oven: a la carte” with a downshift in tempo.

“Vacation” is another notable performance, detailing the pressures involved with, well, taking a vacation. For that production, Hiner switches gears into the type-A personality of Suki, while David Malinowski plays her pedantic husband, Ted. Tempers flare with divorce papers looming overhead because of familiar vacation stresses.

Then there is “An Embrace of the Afterlife,” which boasts the warm talents of Sarah Kunchik as the Woman. No doubt she is the prettiest grim reaper ever.

The evening ends with the hilarious “The Playwright’s Nightmare,” which in a nutshell exposes the audience to the terror often associated with a writer getting his or her work produced and subsequently edited and changed ot the point where the original story is barely evident.

Don Knepper plays the role of serious playwright Terry, who visits the final dress rehearsal of a community theater producing his heavy Catholic Church drama “Saving Salvation.” Brendan Sandham is stage manager Rob, who has taken a few liberties with the play.

“The only thing missing was Santa …so we put him in,” Sandham says enthusiastically.

If looking for a unique night of theater, the 12th Annual One Act Festival “Hot From the Oven: a la carte” won’t disappoint with its entertaining cornucopia of genres approach.

The 12th Annual One Act Festival, “Hot From the Oven: a la carte,” continues Thursdays through Saturdays through March 8 in the Fine Arts Association’s Corning Auditorium, 38660 Mentor Avel, Willoughby. For tickets, which are $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students, call (440) 951-7500 or visit FineArtsAssociation.org

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