Family vacations, best friend road trips, work commutes, the average American spends 80 minutes in the car a day (though one would suspect that that number is even higher for those of us driving in the DC metro area). As such, Taffety Punk’s The Car Plays is an evening to theatre that we can all relate to. All three plays involve situations that are heightened dramatically, but all have a truthfulness to them that allow you to remember similar moments you’ve spent while in a car.
The first play, Buggy & Tyler, by Taffety Punk’s resident playwright Gwydion Suilebhan, involves two college friends returning to campus after visiting a questionable piece of performance art called Burning Man. Suilebhan’s script is delightfully juvenile; he knows how to be low class in all the right ways. The two friends, Buggy (a carefree and loose Eric M. Messner) and Tyler (a buttoned-up Jason Lott) are a modern day odd couple. Their taste in music is as different as their taste in clothes. The play opens with a comical nonfight over the radio. Buggy lip sings to “Take me down to the …” Tyler switches the knob to “I would walk 5 hundred miles” Buggy switches the knob again, and so on. Lott and Messner have perfect timing, both in terms of line delivery, but especially when it comes to simultaneous comic movement.
The first play introduces us to once of the best elements of the entire evening – the creative way in which Taffety Punk creates the worlds of the play on a next-to-nothing budget. At one point, Buggy throws a plastic bottle out the car window. Quick as a flash, a body all in black, with a black box runs by. The bottle falls into the box and disappears and it really feels like the bottle has vanished down a dark highway.
Special mention must also be made of the superb sound design by Josh Tyler and Marcus Kyd. Cars starting, doors slamming, knobs turning. These sounds add just the right level of realism and whomever is playing them in the booth has perfect timing with the motions of the actors.
The second play, Nebraska by Noon by Briandaniel Oglesby, takes a much more dramatic turn. A single mother, Sheila (Sheila Hennessey), is taking her two children on a road trip in a 1990 Dodge Caravan that doesn’t always start right away. The family is highly dysfunctional, and it is soon clear that this is no ordinary road trip. But it never falls into melodrama. Miri (Sylvie Ashford) plays with silly bandz and stuffed animals. Nate (Alex Vaughn) hides in his hoodie. Moments of uncomfortable cruelty strike home and the way Sheily and Nate interact makes you soon wonder just how Miri got her broken arm.
The actors do mostly fine work with the tough script, though there is perhaps too much reliance on shouting. Sylvie Ashford’s performance alone, however, is worth the price of admission. This young girl is onstage with actors that have years of experience over her, but Ashford more than holds her own. Her inner life was completely convincing. Her character had the least amount of dialogue, but was always connected to what was happening on stage. It’s very impressive to see such a young performer who knows how to act in silence.
The third play, dREAMtRIPPIN’ by Thomas Michael Campbell, involves two coworkers on their way to a conference, driving through an oh-so-exciting landscape of corn. But is what is happening really real? Light changes and sudden movements reveal that sometimes Karen (Esther Williamson) or sometimes Stephen (Mark Krawcyzk) was dreaming the previous incident. The series of dreams revolves around how Karen can reveal her feelings for Steven. Or is it how Steven can reveal his feelings for Karen?
The danger of doing an evening of one-acts is that there may be a vast difference in quality. That doesn’t happen here, as all the works are admirable in writing and acting. I will have to confess to preferring the first play, Buggy & Tyler, as I found it the most consistently engaging, but I think the audience will have no majority opinion. Three very different plays that engage and entertain for only $10, what more could you want?
Through April 23