by Scott Clark
Lincoln theatre fans continue to have the opportunity to celebrate the creative arts on stage here with the unique experience that is the Angels Theatre Company‘s First Flight Festival through this coming weekend. 26 short plays – ranging from 10-20 minutes in length – have been split into three “Flights” – Flight A featured 11 plays, Flight B had 10 and Flight C, which premiered last night and featured exclusively middle school and high school actors from Malcolm, NE, had 7 plays (two of which also appear in A and B, but with adult casts). This review is a companion piece to my review of Flights A and B, on the Appearing Locally blog last week.
To recap: All of the plays grew out of the Angels Play Writing Collective – a group of local and regional playwrights that gathers from September through April to write, critique and workshop their short plays. The playwrights submit their works for consideration for the First Flight Festival, and during two days of auditions in April, directors and producers make final determinations on which plays they can effectively cast and include in this theatrical experiment.
In the case of plays in Flight C, two were re-workings of plays with adult casts from Flights A and B, and others were written specifically with youthful casts in mind. While there wasn’t anything I would call “gut punch” drama on display, as there were with several plays in the other Flights, there were still some excellent productions, providing both laughs and thought-provoking moments.
Flight C features plays by only three playwrights: Robin Buckallew (4), Linda Howard Cooke (2), and Paul Burrow (1).
My goal is to provide you with enough of a plot description for each play to engage your curiosity, without revealing any of the critical plot developments. Buckallew’s @StudlySuperheroJr. and Tax Evasion in Dogtown open the show. @StudlySuperheroJr. is a moody piece about an avid young male videogamer being literally pulled (unwittingly) into the electronic world of the Internet, and his being shown the ropes by a young woman who’s been trapped there for some time. This hits on a lot of touchy topics in a sensitive way. …Dogtown is a humorous one-character monologue, as the dog mayor of Dogtown tries to convince one of his city’s human occupants to cough up his income tax in the form of Milkbones. It’s a Worry-full Life by Cooke is a semi-serious/semi-comic revisiting of the old It’s a Wonderful Life trope, as a spirit guide shows a depressed man several examples of what his life would have been like if he’d allowed his constant worries to dictate his actions.
Buckallew had two more back-to-back with A Good Plan and Blue Screen of Death. In the former, a group of students plot to steal a football helmet from their school, before an encounter with a teacher may alter their plans. And Blue Screen of Death, which was previously done in Flight B with an all-adult cast, features a slightly reworked staging, as two kids’ computers lament the fact that they’re not living up to their true computing power by being forced to look up fart jokes and post pictures of socks and oatmeal to the web. Playbill, Play Ball by Cooke features a mother and daughter (and their lawyer) confronting a high school principal with a lawsuit alleging that he’s permitted sports to become a new religion at his school, thus violating the “separation of church and state” clause of the constitution. Flight C ends with another revisited play, Burrow’s The Male Brain Deconstructed, in which three actors portray a man’s visual and olfactory senses, and his “CPU”, as he encounters a cute woman while on a walk. This one got the most laughs in Flight C.
As before, one of the fun elements of tonight’s “opening night” was the opportunity, after the plays were over, to join in a Q&A session with some of the playwrights. Tonight, Robin Buckallew and Paul Burrow (joined by First Flight Festival producer Judy Hart) answered many questions from fascinated audience members, about both this year’s Festival plays, and the Play Writing Collective in general.
The lengths of the short plays in Flight C were fairly uniform, at 15 minutes or less, with the exception of the slightly-longer It’s a Worry-full Life. Casting was once again very solid with the students selected to perform in these seven plays – all the young actors showed a great deal of enthusiasm and skills, and most of these kids have made multiple appearances in past First Flight Festivals. Some of these kids even appeared in more than one play tonight!
However, there were a few of these young thespians who particularly stood out, and I’d like to offer my congratulations to those actors who deserved special attention: David Swotek and Cyrena Miller, the two leads of @StudlySuperheroJr. did an nice job bringing emotions into a somewhat complicated plot; Brian Streeter was marvelous as Rover the Dog Mayor in the monologue; Emerson Mikkelsen (the only student not from Malcolm) and Archer Moody were particularly impressive as Spirit Guide Clarice and suicidal Jordan in It’s a Worry-full Life; the entire cast of A Good Plan played off each other very well, with both serious moments and comical bits; Michael Schmidt and Russell Dunse had terrific comic timing and great facial expressions as the computers in Blue Screen of Death – the staging and set design for this one were also well-done (pictured above). While the whole cast of Playbill, Play Ball were good, I was especially impressed by Tyler Thieman’s gung-ho lawyer, and Braxton Dalton’s put-upon principle; and finally, all three actors (Archer Moody, David Swotek and Brian Streeter – who had all already appeared in earlier plays during the evening) in The Male Brain Deconstructed brought great facial expressions and behavioral tics to their parts.
Use of the “black box” environment of the Studio theater in the Temple Building was kept very simple – with even simpler sets than those that were used in the Flight A and B short plays. Some plays featured a great deal of action, while others were very static. The actors all projected very well for a young cast – several of these performers show great promise, and I hope to see them in future full-length productions on Lincoln-area stages – here’s hoping they and/or their parents are following both the Lincoln Theatre Alliance and Appearing Locally online!
As I said in my Flights A and B review, the First Flight Festival is definitely a unique and unforgettable experience – in the case of Flight C, you get the opportunity to see some of the up-and-coming local theatre stars of the future as they learn the ins-and-outs of how to do live community theater. Flight C is a little shorter than A or B – the performances were done in about one hour and 50 minutes, unlike the earlier Flights’ 2+ hour runs. I came into Flight C wondering how the duplicated productions of Blue Screen of Death and The Male Brain Deconstructed were going to fare in comparison to the versions performed in Flights A and B, and, though I definitely enjoyed the adult casts in the earlier productions, I think I ended up liking the Flight C versions a tiny bit better, particularly Blue Screen… and its more approachable staging in Flight C. And, overall, the strongest of tonight’s “youth productions” could easily hold their own with the adult productions in the earlier Flights. So, come out and support not only the overall goals of the First Flight Festival, but also specifically support our young local actors by checking out one of the remaining performances of Flight C!
If you go – all plays are performed in UNL’s Studio Theatre located on the first floor of the Temple Building, 12th & R Streets, Lincoln. Tickets are available one hour before the show at the box office or you can buy them online.
Remaining Performance Schedule:
Flight A – July 25 @ 7:30pm and Saturday July 27 @ 4pm
Flight B – July 26 @ 7:30pm and Saturday July 27 @ 8pm
Flight C – July 24 @ 7:30pm and Sunday July 28 @ 2pm
Scott Clark has worked in a variety of roles for the Lincoln City Libraries for nearly 40 years, where he regularly shares book, music and film reviews on their readers advisory website, BookGuide. He’s also reviewed books for the Lincoln Journal Star, and KFOR radio, and has shared his reviews of films and stage shows on his blog and Facebook feeds for many years. He’s a reader, writer, and sometimes actor, who loves to share his enthusiasms, in an effort to connect people with things they just might fall in love with!
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