To write a very short play is a challenging assignment. To create characters and a storyline with enough substance to make an impression, while at the same time making them recognizably real and interesting without taking Drama 101 shorcuts, is hard enough in two hours; accomplishing it in 20 minutes is that much more difficult. The Red Fern Theatre Company asked six playwrights each to write a short play about gentrification, a subject near, if not dear, to the hearts of so many New Yorkers. The six tried a variety of approaches; some work, some don't.
The biggest problems come when writers smash characters with disparate backgrounds together and force them to interact in ways that seem wholly artificial in order to get the emotional action going. This dooms Jon Kern's Ours Is the Future. Ours Is the Past, in which the apartment of a yuppie couple in a "transitioning" neighborhood has been broken into and the husband suspects two mechanics who work in a neighboring garage of knowing something about it. These two likable men, on the verge of losing their garage to high rents, have been bantering about whether the hedgehogs or baby seals they've seen on TV are cuter; but the yuppie husband, blinded by prejudice and fear, barges in and accuses them of involvement in the burglary, acting as if he really knows them. The wife comes by later to apologize but, bizarrely, opens up emotionally. It makes zero sense.
The same problem ruins Janine Nabers' (2) 11. Mugged by local street thugs, a young white woman with a baby gets the runaround at the police station, but one sympathetic cop bonds with her. This cop bears so little resemblance to real New York City policemen that I wondered whether the playwright has ever met one. "Why have you been so nice to me?" the victim asks. "'Cause no one else around here will," he replies with mild empathy. Sorry, no; by and large, our police are helpful and professional, but they don't resemble this guy in the least. A surprise ending isn't enough to rescue the play.