By: Isa Goldberg
September 10,2020: While I’m a veteran contributor to theaterlife.com, many moons have passed since I’ve covered live theater or experienced it. Pandemic-wise, it’s been quite a change of life for all of us.
Fortunately, I had the fun of joining a theater troupe, The 68 Cent Crew Theatre, that I discovered a couple of years ago. Currently we’re performing our 9th Annual One-Acts Festival (www.youtube.com/68centcrewtheatre) with a wham bam burst of boldness and creativity.
Each of the seven one-acts is written, directed and performed by company members. Originally conceived for the stage, each employs Zoom technology to explore visual puns and virtual interplay that extends the theatrical format onto the screen. Each play performs one night a week with a double header on Friday nights.
Even with titles, such as “Doomed to Live,” these short plays are primarily light, quick and fun. In fact, “Doomed” Maria Figueredo Kirke’s noir, absurdist comedy, directed by Annie Lanzillotto, sports a novel use of Zoom technology to achieve surprising production values. From costumes and sets, to the use of cameras and the virtual exchange of deadly objects, Kirke’s 10-minute play makes for jaw dropping entertainment.
And for the actors, it’s a tour de force. Threatening suicidal lover (John Varina) and the woman he loves (Snezhana Chernyavskaya), triggered by an interloper (Louis Politan), pull off crazy stunts that lead to near misses before landing with an on-screen kiss.
Christian Leadley’s dark comedy, “Fear and Loathing In The Creative Process,” speaks to the festival’s theme, “primal instincts.” Here, the indomitable Hunter S. Thompson, played by the equally indomitable Marty Grabstein, opines, “Sometimes you have to make yourself dirty and ugly to expose the ugliness you see around you.”
It’s that expression of empathy which Leadley calls a basic primal instinct, and the quality that drew him to write about the famed journalist/novelist. From my point of view, as the actor who plays opposite Grabstein, some of those behaviors – lots of drug taking and gun tossing – can get “hard to watch.”
Still, miles away from Thompson’s cabin in Woody Creek, Colorado in the one-act, “Carnivorous,” by Megan Magee, conflicts over diet drive a young married couple to seek counseling. The wife (Samantha Bowen), a vegetarian, confronts her husband, the titular carnivore, played by Christian Leadley, in their therapist Leslie’s office.
In this role, Alan Braunstein, an actor who more resembles the comedian Larry David than a beatific Zen therapist, embraces the audience with blissful calm. To build this character, “he drew on teachers and mentors who exuded a sense of serenity,” he said. “I remembered they would speak deliberately and slowly at a lower volume but still with energy and purpose. So, I made that choice. Chanting and deep breathing further grounded me in my character. And finally, my wardrobe of a white robe and jeweled pendant made me feel as if I could rise above any conflict.”
As actor/writer and Zoom Master for the festival Samantha Bowen puts it, “it’s really magical when we call places and go dark. As everyone’s videos turn off at the start of the show, it is almost as if we are backstage of our theatre or about to call action on a film. Of course, there is that sense of uncertainty about whether the live stream will work the way I want it to or not. No true live show would go off without a hitch at one moment or another. But that is the beauty of it.”
We’re easy to find. www.youtube.com/68centcrewtheatre , Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Each show runs 10-15 minutes, followed by a live talk back. Just sit back and watch from the orchestra of your own home.