The latest in a long line of collected short plays of a given theatre season, The Best American Short Plays 2010-2011 (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books) offers 21 short dramatic and comedic plays by generally unknown playwrights that all evolve – according to the editor, theatre writer William W. Demastes – the theme of love. An argument may be offered that all literary work is thematically based on love. A bad pun may be suggested that given this diverse collection, love is a many splintered thing.
If love is in the air throughout these 21 plays, it is coy in Lorin Howard’s slight The Subtext of Texting, in which lovers fail to communicate their true feelings while texting cute cliches and smiley faces to each other. It is neurotic in G. Flores’ The Coyote Stratagem, in which a chalk circle with imaginary barbed wire is drawn on a garage floor as a means of creating boundaries and communication between two parties in a dissolving relationship.
Love is strange in Janet Alard’s amusing Creatures, in which a man confesses to his girlfriend at a drive-in movie that he is indeed a werewolf. And it is perverted, if not entirely absent, in Lindsay Marianna Walker and Dawson Moore’s creepy Six Dead Bodies Duct-Taped to a Merry-Go-Round, in which two guys traveling in a truck with a cargo of human corpses contemplate a lewd act.
Lisa Soland’s Thread Count successfully bridges a modernist narrative with an old-fashioned corny tale of a country bumpkin on a sightseeing tour of New York City. It offers zippy Neil Simon-like exchanges between her and a Macy’s Department store sales clerk. It’s unabashedly romantic, while chartering a satisfying and emotional drive that proves a play need not be sappy to be wholesome.
The crowning offering is Gabriel Rivas Gomez’s Scar Tissue. In this psychological, minimally staged extravagance – it includes percussive sounds, projected images and several scene changes – a renowned heart surgeon, coping with the death of her soldier daughter in Afghanistan, plans a life-saving complicated operation on a returned soldier who suffers from post traumatic stress. The taut play reaches a fever pitch of emotion that is disturbing, even heart-wrenching.
For a theatrical director or producer looking for plays to fill the gaps in a production of one-acts, this collection is a bountiful of pleasing oddities. Each work offers something worthwhile, if at times only an amused notion. The collection runs the gamut of the most serious drama to the most irreverent topical mental trinkets like text messaging and active profiles of deceased people on Facebook.
While some come dangerously close to sitcom level, others may very well be the early work of an exciting new voice in the theatre.