Contemporary Theater 24-hour play fest offers six dazzling one-day one acts

Best Play winners: actor Miles Martin, writer Brandon Michael Lowden, director Christopher J Simpson, actors James Foley, Matt Royality-Lindman, and Emily Boyle

Last night, the Contemporary Theater Company staged their 7th-annual "24-hour play fest" at South Kingstown high school, featuring six one-act shows written, directed, and produced in one day, and the results were, by turns, hilarious, engaging, and thought provoking. It was an amazing evening of theater, made all the more special by the knowledge that none of it had existed on Saturday.

The audience voted after the show, and the overall winner for the evening was also the first one on the program, "The Long Play," a twisted comedy about a couple considering divorce, their naif and musical son, and a sudden visit from a long-forgotten high school classmate professing his love for the father. The script by by Michael Lowden was deft and surprising and the directorial choices by CTC's Christopher Simpson were inspired (as the mother watches a football game, the audience literally becomes the TV, as actors tossed footballs; in a later flashback moment, high-school field trip kids poke a stuffed possum and Simpson broke the fourth wall to invite the audience to join in.) Emily Boyle and James Foley did a wonderful job as the estranged couple, and their son, played by Miles Martin plinked along on an electric piano before supporting them in a parody musical number as they reconcile and rebuff the unrequited high-school crush, played by Matt Royality-Lindman. If that sounds like a truly gonzo one-act to pull off in a day, well, yes, it was. The award for best show was well deserved.

There were additional challenges for the writers: each had two writing prompts, such as, "a musical number abbreviated abruptly," "repeated nonverbal references to the weather," and "actor plays an inanimate object." As if cranking out a one-act overnight was not challenging enough. But wait, there's more. Each show also had to include six common bits of dialogue, and it was really fascinating to watch as the meaning of the phrases pivoted in each of the plays. There were lines like "Once you get to know me, you will know how absurd that question is," "I can make myself heard, but I can't make people listen," and "that moment where nobody speaks, but everyone understands what's happening," and then, as you heard them over and over in different contexts, there was a delightful dissonance. The six writers all did a wonderful job working within the constraints.

The second show was a futuristic dystopia, "Look in the Clouds" by Shawn Fennell, directed by Lily Matthews. Portsmouth's Andrew Katzman played the young tutor and suitor of Tammy Brown, a 16-year-old in a mega-high-rise of the future, whose designer father, Pat Keefe, is preoccupied with how to move the residents ever higher to escape global warming. I've got a soft spot for this genre, and the energy between Katzman and Brown was wonderful; there was one beat where he brings her a bouquet of balloons and she exclaims that helium is expensive. "Maybe I sold a kidney," he admitted, in a moment that was a beautiful mix of rueful memory and come-on. As they descend in the elevator, Rebecca Magnotta appeared in a delightful absurdist turn as Amelia Earhart.

Next up was "I Thought My Boyfriend Was a Vampire," by Shannon Lee Clair, directed by David Price, a darkly comic ghost story in a hotel room as Tonya Free discovers that her boyfriend, Grey Johnson, is visited nightly by the shade of his dead twin brother, played by Max Rosmarin — with the occasional intrusion of his spiritual guide, the classical Horace, played by Eli Roth, who speaks only in poetic forms. "Lucky I wasn't dead during his limerick phase," Max notes. The evolving dynamic between Tonya and Max was well played, and the play closes with her considering a revolver in her hand as she ponders which brother she loves. A wonderful beat.

"Relationship Rescues," written by journalist Liz Boardman and directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, offered a fresh take on family counseling, with a delightfully over-the-top barefoot therapist, played by Max Matthews, whose blend of reiki woo and gnomic advice delivered in haiku won him best actor of the evening. Spencer Curry as the oblivious sports-obsessed husband ("Why I am here? The Pats have a by week") and Amy Lee Connell as the control-freak wife had a delightful chemistry, and Connell took home best actress of the evening. Christine Cauchon turned in a subtle counterpoint as another patient kept outside in the rain, who turns out to be the key to the doctor's happiness in the end.

The next show was "Spinning Spinach & Tasting Teacups Gives Dreadful Girls Painful Hiccups," written by Ashley Macamaux and directed by Amy Lynn Budd, and it was a minimalist fantasy about a man with a balloon. I'm one of those people who digs futurist theatre, so I loved the weird, absurdist interactions of Rico Lanni, Sami Avigdor, Meghan Rose Donnelly, and Steph Rodger, who may have been in a park, and then passengers on a train. Donnelly may have been a man. Or a woman. And the balloon may have gotten stuck in the rafters on purpose. Or maybe not. Weird fun.

The evening closed with "I Smell Bad and Can't Read Good," by Davidb Marchetti, directed by Judith Ross-McNab, a high-octane comedy that won for best plot, about two guys, a delightfully smarmy Pat Hayes and his nebbish wingman Kevin Killavey who try to pick up two women at the beach. There's a minor complication: a giant, rotting whale that Grace Danna convinces her friend Amelia Giles to use to their advantage, by playing the boys into trying to save the obviously dead critter as payback for a string of macho pickup lines. Killavey turned in a delightful long-suffering counterpoint trying to convince his pal to abandon the attempt to impress the women by playing marine biologists while ignoring the obvious: "Free Willy's bloated carcass is right there!" While the couples do find rapprochement, the local authorities blow up the whale with dynamite, showering the cast in a hilarious rain of red Jello.

It was a marvelous, magical, hilarious evening full of intense moments and human notes, and the entire cast and crew should be very proud of what they did in one day. This is what theater is about, and I highly recommend you make the trip to South County when they do this next year.

You can find out more about the Contemporary Theater Company on their web site, or like them on Facebook. Their next production, in late February, is Charles Mee's dark dramedy "Paradise Park," which, in the hands of this company, should be a fun ride indeed.

Full disclosure: Our family knows the Katzmans, but I had no idea that they had any connection to the show until after I had decided to attend.