Of the many short play festivals that are put up a year, one of the absolute best is dedicated to the emerging playwrights of the African-American diaspora. Last year, the “Fire This Time Festival” proved its importance even though it was an uneven night full of bright stars with underwhelming scripts. While there were some great works in there, some felt underwhelming, or dare I say, wasted their potential. This is common in this type of short play festival, usually it’s the other way around, and most of the plays themselves feel incomplete. The festival last year did a great job of being curated, and not feeling like the plays were part of something larger. But this year, the improvement was vast.
Not only was the selection of plays better suited, it created a whole evening where each play worked in different ways. Rarely one had a theme that overlapped the other, and the playwrights did a great job of creating complete pieces in the short time they had. But surely, the organizers went to great lengths to create a program to be proud of.
A bolt of absurdist energy started the night, with the play “Ain’t No Mo” by playwright Jordan E. Cooper. An entertaining look at the hope we all had on that evening Obama won his first term, we see how African Americans rose up and felt like progress was finally happening. This all leads to an ending that is jaw-droppingly effective and heartbreaking. Which makes it ironic that this play itself feels so complete, as there is a full length version of the play itself being read soon. Bravo to the playwright, who managed to make it into a shorter piece that stood out. Which is more than we can say about the next play. A charming tale of love despite age difference, “Love and Happiness: Ada’s Story” was superbly acted but felt like the only show that was incomplete. At the end, the whole audience expected it to keep going, but we just went to the next. A playful and poignant Albree-inspired production followed, which despite having an overwrought and explained ending, hit all the beats it needed to pay tribute to the master himself. “Waiting for Virginia Wolfe” by Michelle Tyrene Johnson was definitely one the stand outs for this Albee enthusiast.
The following play was by far the most powerful. “The Fucking World and Everything in It,” by C.A. Johnson worried me at first. The story of a cop and black male wrongly imprisoned, it’s a story many are writing about… but not like this. Not in the way this play is crafted, not with that last line. Intermission coming right after this play was the right choice, I needed to breathe. “Detained” by Shemar S. White, started the second half of the evening. The only complaint is that it was too close to C.A. Johnson’s play in terms of themes, and it wasn’t as strong. This is not to say it wasn’t good, it was quite good, but it didn’t reach the heights of it’s predecessor. The remaining two plays were much more intimate affairs. “Stiletto Envy” by powerhouse Eliana Pipes, explores sexuality and its branches in a humorous, yet realistic way. We couldn’t help but root for these characters, until at the end, we had to see their resolution. The fact that the audience could easily see both perspectives and equally stand behind them speaks of Pipes’s talent as a writer. And to finish off this spectacular evening, we have a battle between two old friends and their sense of guilt in the play “Switch!” The play by Karen Chilton was what I would consider the most adult play in the festival. While others discussed larger themes, this one brings it down to a more personal level. What we get is the perfect end to an evening full of promise.
The ensemble, which consisted of many of the playwrights, impressed the audience with their performances. The director managed to weave all these plays together into a well organized event. Everyone had love to show, and wanted this to succeed and we, the audience, got to see that. Enjoy it. Love it. And in the process, see how incredible the pool of talent is in the African-American and ethnic community. Last year, I left hoping the next year was better. The 8th Annual “Fire This Time Festival” did not only surpass last year’s, but it has become my favorite short play festival of the year. Go see it before February 5th!
Out of 4 stars:
Twisted Talk: Have you ever been to the Fire This Time Festival? Have you ever been to a short play festival? Discuss below!