Short play festivals get a bad rep nowadays, and for good reason. The overabundance of opportunities has diminished the competitive nature of festivals, and playwrights do not feel like they have to try as hard to get their shows produced in NYC. Actually, the “produced in NYC” label that people used to say with much pride has lost a little bit of its luster thanks to this ten minute festival phenomena that has been the bread and butter for some companies in the past few years. Then, most of the time these production companies ask the playwrights to do their own productions, even when it’s not a competition, which makes it feel disjointed and the quality suffers while the producers make the money offering exposure and nothing else. The issue with this is that when a good concept for a festival like this is out there, many people ignore it without knowing what they are missing. It’s not an event, just another short play festival for friends to come watch their friend’s show. I start this review this way because when I went to see “Scream Queens and Crazed Fiends,” I had in my head that I would just see another one of those festivals where the producers don’t seem to care about what they are putting on stage, but the money they can make out of playwrights desperate to get that NYC credit. And while the quality of the plays themselves were nothing to rave about, the show itself had a reason to exist and on every step it looked like the producers wanted to give their audience a good night, a reason to pay, and a production to remember.
My last horror show this Halloween season, White Rabbit Productions gave us a sweet throwback to the 70s horror industry. Boasting a cast of hosts that included icons like Blacula and Carrie, we were treated to a crew that had much love to this particular era. Their songs at the beginning and the end were acceptable pieces of musical theater, that set us up for a night that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. A night to celebrate the genre itself, not to mock it. An homage. These characters, which also included Damian, Reagan, and Ellen Ripley, made the transitions amusing and for the most part, better than the plays themselves. I did have a big problem with Ellen Ripley’s portrayal, as the actor playing her was a white woman wearing an afro wig… and talking more like Foxy Brown than the actual character… We can explain the afro because of Weaver’s curly hair, but the dialogue? Not going to lie, I was both uncomfortable every time she was on stage and appalled that in today’s world things like this keep happening. Anyway, let’s move on, before I rant even more about this casting problem that seems to plague so many productions.
Out of the ten plays in the program, only one managed to stay with me even after the show. A majority of them played like scripts that were half done, or stories with a punchline that never came. Two of them were so similar, that I wonder if the same writer wrote them and just changed the situation a bit. And then there was “Tania” by Eric C. Webb. Webb seemed to be the only playwright there with a story that was appropriate for its length. It was also the only one that truly terrified me, that used the stage as a way to play with our fears of being misunderstood and the need to fit in. “Trumpets Sounding Over Harrisburg” was the only other show whose quality can be praised. Not as good as “Tania,” or even as effective, this piece still manages to feel complete, and paid off by the end of its short length. There were two others that felt like they could have been stand outs : “And This is What The Devil Said” by Gina Femia and “The Questioning” by Michael Hagins. Both of them were betrayed by poor performances, and rushed moments. The rest of the slate range from ok to mediocre, with “Bite Curious” being the perfect example of filler.
While the plays themselves weren’t the star, besides the aforementioned “Tania,” the night didn’t feel like a waste of time. Nobody went there to find the next Pulitzer winner, they went there to spend their night doing something befitting of the season. A production thats only purpose was to entertain accomplished just that, even with the slate of substandard plays it had. Hell, we at least got a good one, and a couple of playwrights to watch. The night was far from perfect or award winning, but if more production companies put their short length events like this, maybe the rep of short play festivals would change. Bravo White Rabbit Production for doing what you set up to do: Entertain.
Our of four stars:
*Based on the entertainment factor, and less about the content.
Twisted Talk: Have you seen any White Rabbit Production shows? How did you celebrate Halloween this year? Discuss below!