There is a certain acuity and adroitness in presentation and delivery that must be fostered in order for one act plays to be successful. To conceive of a one act play—a scenario, a collection of characters, an absurd or provocative idea, a moment tense enough to drive action—there must be some quality that warrants being immersed in a microcosm. To that effect, the most meaningful one act plays function as metaphoric conceits—they tangle with symbolism and character arcs in ways which make the play sustainable and also enrapturing. Beckett’s Endgame is so compelling as a one-act endeavor because it tampers with the collisions of metaphors and abstractions in a post-apocalyptic setting. And though it is challenging to compare something to the berserk mastery of Beckett, the plays featured in Program B of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival at the Carnegie Stage on Thursday evening were impressive for capturing such an ingenious spirit and highlighting moments and allegories provocative enough to be riveting enough for one act features.
Thursday evening saw three masterful, succinct plays highlighted at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie—nestled in a town square deceptively twee but clearly brimming with quirk in a such a way that it could have been the setting of its own one-act play. Each play—The Man Who Invented Love; My Strange Journey; and Writer’s Block—barely clocked in at thirty minutes, and yet each play enthralled and consumed without distracting or discombobulating the audience. The array of brief dramaturgical works are notable for the thematic similarities but distinct manner of staging each: The Man Who Invented Love, written by Pittsburgh local and Pitt graduate Scott Romani, focuses on the peculiar second (or is it third?) between two men, as one sifts through the marginalia in the home of his deceased great uncle, only to unearth a poignant discovery; My Strange Journey, penned by award-winning writer and scholar W.L. Newkirk, chronicles the tempestuous revisiting of the opus of an author in her 50s as she assesses her traumas and talents; and, on the more absurdist side, Writer’s Block, by Derek Lynch, depicts one writer’s struggle with conveying a plot that is not trite or redundant, and in doing so is visited by the rambunctious personifications of Comedy and Tragedy.
Attesting to the acuity of the playwrights and actors staging these pieces, Lynch’s Writer’s Block serves as a stalwart example of the incredible potential to convey an engrossing, complex world in the course of a few minutes. The eons-old writerly grapple with being original versus being popular, of crafting an enlivening plot rather than succumbing to trotted out collisions of good and evil or melancholy and humor is so exquisitely embodied in the physical acting of Comedy and Tragedy, and the embellished antics of each actor that devolves into a Master and Margarita-esque baroque mess. Never does the play overwhelm or overstimulate, nor does the rapid progression through imagery and symbolism seem fraught or like a stretch. But perhaps most gorgeously simple yet slyly profound was The Man Who Invented Love, a piece which, admittedly, tugged at my old nostalgia-fetishizing heartstrings, but was nevertheless so sublimely lovely in its execution. Starting from the casting of two men who defied archetypal expectations and portrayed their characters with subtle and honest energies, Man encompassed an array of haunting emotions and succeeded in interweaving a matrix of smaller plots that resolved tidily but not in a way that cheapened the emotional investment made in the short span of action.
Pittsburgh New Works has presented multitudinous plays since its inception in 1991, and certainly, from the brief glimpse into the collection of works provided by these three plays, the festival continues to hold its works to a standard of excellence and striking creativity. Most impressively, the three plays presented triumphed my own skepticism of one-act plays with brilliantly pithy writing and robust performances.