by Michèle Griskey
Full disclosure: I’m the person all the playwrights sent their work to earlier this year, so I read all of the plays before the performance; however, a play on a page is not the same as a play on the stage.
This year marks the thirteenth year of the Annual PlayFest for the Actors Theater of Orcas Island, and the performance will knock your socks off! The playwrights deserve a standing ovation for their dedication to craft, careful revisions and inspired vision.
“Camelot’s End,” written by Nancy Reas, directed by Carie Lou Gottschaldt.
This bittersweet drama showcases the reckoning a couple must face in coming to terms with a devastating illness and what this means for their relationship. As Fred’s memory disappears, Nancy struggles to keep what connection they have left. This poignant performance is played with perfection by the real-life couple, John and Annette Mazzarella.
“Moira,” written by Kat Blucker, directed by Madeline Olson.
Suzy Shipman plays Moira, a woman narrating the abuse she’s sustained in a marriage with a man she still loves. In this powerful performance, Shipman shows us the complicated emotions, agency and power a victim can find in a journey of self-discovery.
“Coming Out,” written by Heather Thomas, directed by Lynda Sanders.
Since an audience can only audibly sob for so long, Playfest shifts gears with a playful look at bias and acceptance.
Stephanie Wright plays Mom and Gus Klueber plays Dad, who both speculate on all of the possible reasons why their daughter, Freedom, played by Isabella Schermerhorn, is coming over to tell them something important. The cast nailed the timing and the necessary hyperbole to make this play hilarious.
“The Adventures of Jack Armstrong,” by Hank Pollard, directed by Frank Michaels.
This play is set up as radio drama from the past, complete with an announcer, played by Larry Hampel; Margot Van Gelder as the enthusiastic Billy, always ready for adventure; Alia Hynek as Betty, prone to dramatic screams; Rick Markov as Uncle Jim, who escapes near death multiple times; Frank Michaels as Jack Armstrong, who cleverly figures their way out of every dangerous scrape; finally, Lesley Liddle rounds off the cast as the intent sound effects tech with hysterical facial expressions to match the clever ways she mimics the sounds of a jungle adventure.
This play is expertly performed with classic portrayals that will leave you wanting more of Jack Armstrong’s adventures and a big bowl of Wheaties for breakfast.
“Thirteen This Way,” by Miguel Villarreal, directed by Evan Wagoner-Lynch.
In this postmodern historical retelling of early American History, we can suspend facts and accept Betsy Ross is the pragmatic Secretary of the Interior, played by Stephanie Wright, and Ben Franklin offers some unusual advice, played with a generous helping of flamboyancy by Travis King.
Frank Michaels plays the remodeling obsessed Thomas Jefferson, who drives his construction crew, Lou and Will, played with energy by Jessie Gonzalez and Ayjah Wright, to keep working on trivial tasks and promotes them for a significant job they didn’t see coming.
“Dust,” by Mary Bayley, directed by Lisa Spesard and Isabella Schermerhorn.
The dust filled past of carving out futures is the theme for this historical drama. Hayley Thompson plays May, a woman caught between the old refined ways of her mother, played by Leslie Liddle, and her new life with her husband, played by Don Yearly as they attempt to farm dusty land in Eastern Washington. Each of the actors skillfully bring out the struggles they face as they work through their challenges to find the right path for the future.
“Nonviolent Gulch,” by Evan Wagoner-Lynch, directed by Melinda Milligan.
This guffaw-inducing play subverts western movie tropes in a most excellent way. Rattlesnake Gulch is now Nonviolent Gulch, and Larry Hempel plays the barkeep, Smitty, who does everything in his power to keep his cool when Gunstone, played with all the savvy of a super tough guy by Travis King shows up in town for some gun slinging.
Instead he gets the emotional treatment from the bubbly and ever smiling, Mediator Molly, played by Liz Doane and the stoic Butch, played by Lisa Spesard. Rick Markov rounds off the cast as Mad Jack who, we can assume, will soon find out that Nonviolent Gulch is a different kind of town.
This year marks another year with new playwrights, directors, and actors. Kudos, always, to the volunteers who do make up, costumes, build the sets, cover the lighting and sound cues, and the stage crew who skillfully sets up the stage for seven unique plays every night. Cheers for Aimee Johnson for her tireless work to bring this all together.
Remaining Performances are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 11, 12, 13.
Tickets are $10 and all performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door, at Darvill’s Bookstore or online at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Some of this material may not be appropriate for younger children.