Atlantic Theater Company's 10x25 One Act Series

I had a delightful afternoon at the Atlantic Theater Company’s 10x25 series of one act plays. Throughout the three-series run, a total of 25 playwrights will present 10-minute one act plays. On Saturday I saw Series B, which consisted of one acts from eight playwrights, including favorites (and reasons for going!) Annie Baker and Jez Butterworth, and starring a troupe of actors including favorites Reed Birney and Michael Chernus.

Each one act was entertaining, especially for just ten minutes. I’d break down the eight one acts into three groups: Some were perfect as ten minute one acts. I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with the characters, but I wasn’t left feeling a need to learn more; characters’ journeys were satisfactorily explored within the brief time we spent together, and the story was fully encapsulated within those ten minutes. Other one acts had a more contrived ending, like the playwright was looking for an ending, instead of searching for a truthful conclusion. I didn’t feel like I wanted to learn more about those characters and stories. But some of the one acts (in particular, the ones written by Baker and Butterworth), left me wanting so much more.

I know that on occasion I’ve mentioned that I wanted more from a play and I’ve meant that as a criticism of the play. I don’t mean it that way here. I only got ten minutes with these characters; I only got to know a tiny little bit of this story and I’m eager to know more. The one act served as a great tease and would most definitely get me back in the theatre if the one act was expanded to a full length play.

Take Baker’s play, Practice, for example. It opened the series and came complete with her hallmark: silences during which nothing is spoken but so much is said. In Practice, a long-time practicing Buddhist (Birney) is conducting a class to help people practice a particular meditation technique. Half of the one act is the cast just sitting there, in a silent meditation. But that’s not really all that’s going on. You watch each actor’s face, and you realize there’s a lot going on; Chernus’s character is looking around the room at each other student, trying to figure them out. Other characters are clearly having trouble clearing their minds. Still another character’s cell phone rings. When the one act finished, I was literally on the edge of my seat, and my breath caught as the lights went to a blackout. I would love to spend hours with these characters.

A friend asked me if these one acts are the precursor to a full length play. In the case of Practice and others from this series, I certainly hope so.

The company of actors were all game for the challenge of developing full characters out of such little material. Talia Balsam, Birney, Kate Blumberg, Larry Bryggman, Chernus, Nick Choksi, John Early, David Fonteno, Rick Holmes, Zosia Mamet, Mary McCann, Rod McLachlan, Matthew Montelongo, Stephen Park, Mary Beth Peil, Susan Pourfar, Danielle Slavick, Joey Slotnick and Maria Tucci did a terrific job of presenting compelling characters in just ten minutes.

Herein, a brief rundown of the one acts:

  • Practice, written and directed by Annie Baker
    (See description above.)
  • The New Paradigm, written by Keith Reddin, directed by Neil Pepe
    Three men gather to talk about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” being sure to never actually say certain verboten words.
  • The Naked Eye, written by Jez Butterworth, directed by Neil Pepe
    Are young woman recounts the time her father let her and her siblings stay up late to watch Haley’s Comet. (So captivating. I want to know so much more!)
  • Caution, This Bus Kneels. Stand Clear, written by Tina Howe, directed by Christian Parker
    An almost farcical fantasy of interactions among NYC bus riders, including an opera performance.
  • The Sell, written by Craig Lucas, directed by Neil Pepe
    An artist shows her work to a potential buyer, an upper-crust woman who is looking for mantle art.
  • Smiling, written by Edwin Sanchez, directed by Jamie Castaneda
    Ernest (Chernus) literally can’t stop smiling, and he tells the Bartender (Birney) it’s a symptom of his trying to fit in with hipsters he wants to impress. (An interesting idea of social mores presented by two of the best actors working on the New York stage. Excellent.)
  • There You Are, written and directed by Leslie Ayvazian
    Two old friends bump into each other and reminisce.
  • This Backstage Life, written by Bill Wrubel, directed by Todd Weeks
    It’s 15 minutes to places on opening night and the stage manager is trying to hold everything together. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a leading lady who’s prone to hysteria; a leading man who’s jumping down the prop master’s throat; and a mother (his) who won’t stop saying “Macbeth” in the theatre! (This was very funny; Wrubel is a writer on Modern Family and This Backstage Life had a similar, “Oh, yeah, that’s my life” feel to it.)

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