‘Peck of Plays’ packs laughs, tears in bursts

Prodigal Sun Productions brings another series of works, each about 10 minutes, to Olympia

Contributing writerOctober 11, 2013 

Tom Sanders, clockwise from upper left, Debbie Sampson and Judy Oliver star in “Sinatra’s Ocean” by Dan Erickson.

PHOTO COURTESY PRODIGAL SUN PRODUCTIONS

‘An Improbable Peck of Plays II’

What: Prodigal Sun Productions and the Northwest Playwrights Alliance present a second annual evening of one-acts.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 17-20 and 24-26

Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia St., Olympia

Tickets: $12-$18 sliding scale at the door, or $12 plus fees in advance at brownpapertickets.com/event/475243

The rest of the season

Prodigal Sun Productions’ season still is shaping up. Here’s what’s in the works:

 • The second Alternative Holiday Show (Dec. 14), a follow-up to last year’s show, which featured “Yes Yes No No,” by Tony Kushner, music and a David Sedaris monologue.

 • “Oh, Wally,” by Nick McCord (May), which the Olympia playwright called a “weird take on the 1980s sitcoms.” You might think of “An Improbable Peck of Plays,” opening tonight, as the theatrical equivalent of a tapas platter.

Each of the evening’s one-acts lasts 10 minutes or less, giving audiences enough to savor without overstuffing them.

“If you don’t like a piece, 10 minutes later, you are going to get something completely different,” said Bryan Willis of The Northwest Playwrights Alliance, which is producing the evening in cooperation with Prodigal Sun Productions. “People are more patient with that. It’s a fun, spontaneous ride.”

“People really like the one-acts,” agreed Tom Sanders, who’s directing two of the evening’s plays and co-directing a third. “They like the fact that stuff doesn’t drag out to where you have to really commit to it.

“Everybody now has a short attention span.”

The second Peck event includes seven plays, each written by a Northwest playwright. Willis of Olympia wrote one and is directing another. New playwright Amy Shephard of Olympia, well known to South Sound theatergoers for her high-energy acting, wrote another, which she’s co-directing with Sanders.

Most of the plays have been previously produced by the 10-year-old playwrights group at festivals or on its annual tours to New York City and England. Shephard’s, though, is making its debut tonight.

A short play invites the director and actors to focus on the essence of the piece, Willis said.

“This is not about special effects,” he said. “It’s about the language and the acting. We’ve toured many of these plays in England, so they have to fit in a suitcase.”

If the short form is a delight for the director, it can be a challenge to the playwright.

“With a 10-minute play, the easy choice is to write a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, which is fun,” Willis said. “The bigger challenge is to write something that has some emotional resonance in 10 minutes. It’s no easy trick.

“We’re trying to get a variety of pieces,” he added. However, most of the Peck’s plays are comedies.

Willis’ own play even has a funny title, “The Awesome Power of the Black & Decker LH5000 12-Amp Variable Speed Electricleaf Hog.” It’s about a woman who’s sitting outdoors to read until a leaf blower interrupts. “It’s a play about the futility of our attempts to tame nature when everything longs to be wild,” she said.

“Hygiene,” written by former Seattle resident Gregory Hischak, is hilarious, Willis said. “A little girl comes home from school and she has, quite literally, a tiny, blood-sucking minimalist composer stuck in her head,” he said. “The goal is to try to remove the composer from the child’s head.”

More somber — although still with funny moments — is the play that Willis is directing: “Sinatra’s Ocean,” by Dan Erickson, formerly of Olympia.

“It’s a play about a couple who need to learn how to listen to each other again,” Willis said. “She’s had some sort of accident and is in an institution, and her husband is there reaching out for her.

“Unless you have a tiny heart of stone, you’ll cry at this one. It’s a beautiful play.”

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