Dramarama, the year's most celebratory theater event, is also its most bewildering. The annual stage sampler recently feted its 14th apparition at the CAC. In the past, Dramarama has been packed. This year, the turnout was a bit lighter. The smaller crowd was not due to a lack of public interest, however, but a virulent simultaneity: French Quarter Fest was jumping and jiving at the same time.
Those who made it over to the CAC were in good hands. Managing Director Richard Read and Artistic Director R. J. Tsarov, who have made a continued effort over the years to up the quality of the presentations, managed to bring together some impressive and entertaining shows.
Dramarama 14, like all its predecessors, was an overstuffed grab-bag of theater and dance. There's no way you can make it to every presentation that interests you. Hellza-poppin. Everywhere. Here are some of the shows I saw.
Putt-Putt was a short comedy by Gabrielle Reisman -- at least, that's what it says in the program. However, Reisman sent around a flyer explaining the name had been changed, under threat of a lawsuit from the Putt-Putt company. To spare her legal problems, let's call it "Ptt-Ptt" -- although that does look Mayan or Minoan, both of which are very much in the wrong direction.
In Ptt-Ptt, two young men break into a miniature golf course at night in order to steal a fiberglass bear figure. One of the guys wants to give the bear to his girlfriend as a Valentine's Day present. The gift is part of the ritual of winning the girlfriend back following a falling out.
Well, another female friend or buddy or acquaintance joins them in the heist and the narrative delicately threads its way through the web of relationships and mishaps. This doesn't sound like much, but the short play was skillful and entertaining.
Playwright Reisman herself directed and helped shape the dialogue by having the actors sometimes play the emotional importance of offhand, comic lines.
R.J. Tsarov, our premiere nonlinear playwright, wowed the crowd with a weird little piece called Clear Priorities. I'm afraid I'd have to see it again to describe it adequately. However, I can say that I'm sure that the first, long-ago generation of proto-surrealists are smiling somewhere up in their improbable heaven.
In Clear Priorities, we see a couple. They are sitting on chairs facing us. They are dressed like ... like what? Bavarian peasants.
The man (Travis Acosta) launches into a monologue that seems to be trying to turn into a comedy routine or at least a joke. The woman (Kate Labouisse), who is blond and munching furiously on some sort of snack food out of a bowl, interrupts him with cutting remarks. At odd moments, odd occurrences occur. A doubloon tumbles out of the woman's mouth. Later, her mouth starts to bleed.
The joke, when the man finally sort of gets it on track, does have a funny punch line. If it is a joke. We are definitely in Einstein's universe, not Newton's.
The man possibly had sex with a vacuum cleaner. Imagine the lawsuit, if Tsarov had called the play Hoover.
Another amusing piece was It Depends on the Way You Pay by Pat Bourgeois. More of a comedy sketch than a one-act play, this tifle begins with a man and a woman who run a wedding agency or something of the sort. The man is gay and laments an empty stretch in his romantic life. The woman has her hands full with her nursery school problem-child.
Into their office comes a pair of yokels who want to tie the knot. These trailer-park lovebirds are over the top. They want a theme wedding. But what theme? There is much negotiating and much frustration on the part of the marriage agency pair. This nonsensical turmoil is the heart of the play and it's amusing in and of itself.
Bourgeois' play --Êlike the other two already discussed -- ends with a kind of turnaround. But, hopefully, these plays will find a further life, so I won't give away the endings.
Once again, Dramarama served its essential function of reminding us that there is an active, inspired world of original theater here.
I have one suggestion to make, although I don't know how the practicalities would be worked out. One of the plays I attended was nearly drowned out by the Mid Eastern music of the belly dancers downstairs in the atrium. This seemed unfair to the playwright and the actors. Better scheduling or placement of events is necessary, so that everyone's effort gets a fair showing.
- Gabrielle Pickard performed in Blues for the Lower 9 at DramaRama 14.